§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord Joseph rose to call attention to the importance of the way parents bring up their children and to the case for voluntary bodies to provide help and friendship where the parents so wish; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my topic today is the quality of parenting. We rely upon parents to transmit the values and the self-discipline on which civilised society depends. I am not a Utopian and I know that there will always be some had parenting. But I want to consider the scope for increasing through voluntary services parenting that is, in a well-known phrase, "good enough." What is good enough parenting? It seems to be agreed that for children to mature into self-disciplined adults capable of loving and being loved and of showing consideration for others, they need from their parents 445 a consistent combination of love and discipline: unqualified love, but firm guidance on values and behaviour.
§ It has always been hard to be a good parent. It is harder now. Most people experience good enough parenting and, when they become parents, pass it on. However, a significant minority, for many reasons, do not enjoy that experience. Sometimes such people are unable to pass on good parenting themselves because of pressures, including the pressure of poverty. Income is not in itself decisive: resourcefulness is also crucial. There are certainly big problems in managing over a long period on a low income. Nevertheless, there are good parents with low incomes and bad parents with average and high incomes.
§ What can be done to increase parenting that is good enough? Government can do nothing directly, but Ministers should realise that their policies affect people as parents. Indeed, those policies indicate whether or not children are valued. But that is not the subject of today's Motion. What then can be done? Respect for parenting would help. Ministers can at least recognise the importance to society of good enough parenting. There are links at every level between parenting that is not good enough and family break-up, children demoralised or in care, crime, violence, addictions, low motivation and irresponsibility. What else can be done? We could stop disparaging marriage. Although no doubt some married couples provide bad parenting and some single parents provide excellent parenting, in general married households are preferable for the bringing up of children.
§ What further might be done? We could stop deceiving ourselves on some issues. For instance, it is not true that day care solves every problem. High quality day care may do good but it is very costly. Much day care is poor in quality and may harm the child's capacity to mature well. Whether mothers should earn outside the home is of course for parents to decide. But an increased earned income allowance transferable between husband and wife, as suggested by Nigel Lawson in 1988, would remove a penalty on families where the mother stays at home.
§ Is there anything else that might be done? We could stop thinking that we can have a civilised society without some stigma. What the neighbours say should matter and careless procreation is not something that should be accepted. It is irresponsible. Admittedly better understanding of the implications would help, and I shall turn to that later. But attitudes are not quickly reversed, even if in this House we were all to agree.
§ So what more within our own control might be done? Already families, friends, neighbours, churches and voluntary societies provide an immense range of services to help parents. The book entitled The Needs of Parents, published in 1984 and written by Gillian Pugh and Erica De'Ath, is, I am glad to say, being updated, with the help perhaps of the Gulbenkian Foundation. The great national children's charities—the National Children's Home, Barnardo's, the Children's Society, the NSPCC—focus by large 446 numbers of family centres and related activities on trying to rescue children from abuse and neglect and so far as they can to improve family functioning. These centres do immense good. It is unthinkable that their work should stop. There are, alas, more cases of need than they can meet.
§ But I want to review the scope for voluntary services to increase good enough parenting by a more general preparation for parenthood than is now available. Large categories are involved. There are parents who did not realise the implications of bringing a child into the world: girls who see childbirth as their only fulfilment, without realising the narrowed way of life, the exhaustion and the responsibilities involved; and young men who breed irresponsibly—some may be discouraged by the recent maintenance Act. Could not adolescents be made more generally aware, preferably by parents, but, if not, by their agreement with others, of the implications of pregnancy and the responsibilities of parenthood? Sex education tends to ignore relationships and responsibilities. It concentrates on the mechanics of avoiding pregnancy and disease. I know of the very recent National Children's Bureau project endorsed by Church and social bodies to deepen sex education by including relationships. I must confess that I flinched when Minister, from trying to introduce the subjects of relationships and responsibilities into state schools because of doubts about what would he taught, by whom and how effectively.
§ Perhaps voluntary bodies could seek to train and offer to school governors mature, understanding volunteers to discuss responsibilities with adolescents. There is interest among voluntary services; the YWCA, for instance, offers lone parent speakers to schools to urge teenagers not to embark upon parenthood as they did.
§ There are already many voluntary groups teaching or supporting teaching about relationships and about the emotional, moral and physical needs of children. I have a list. I hesitate to use it but I think that I had better, although I may leave out some contributing names. There is Save the Children, the National Family Trust, the Family Education Trust, the Catholic Children's Society, the National Childbirth Trust, Parent Network, Exploring Parenthood, Stepfamily, the Maternity Alliance, Schools Outreach and of course the work in and from family centres of the National Children's Home, the NSPCC, Barnardo's and the Children's Society. The Community Education Development Centre also has a range of training studies.
§ Those who are already parents can often find it hard to cope. Perhaps they never realised what an exhausting job it can be to look after even one child, even with a supportive husband, regular income and adequate housing. Without such a framework a household can be overwhelmed and enter with the baby or children into a spiral of demoralisation.
§ I suggest that the voluntary services should encourage yet further growth of efforts to spread good enough parenting by catching parenting that is not good enough very early on when it is just manifesting itself. Such efforts could help parents who need and 447 want help at home by offering one volunteer to one family befriending. That is precisely what Home-Start, founded by Margaret Harrison in Leicester in 1973, aims to do. There are now 114 branches of Home-Start in the United Kingdom providing help and friendship through nearly 4,000 volunteers to over 8,000 households containing about 20,000 children and their parents in the latest year. The volunteers are themselves parents, carefully selected and given a short training. These volunteers spend an average of about four hours a week in the family home. Each volunteer aims to become the resourceful friend of any family who so wishes, with at least one small child, often self-referred. The volunteers—I emphasise this—have no power and no authority. They can be thrown out by the parents at any time—but they seldom if ever are. They almost always leave the family better able to cope and to enjoy parenting. Some of the parents befriended themselves become Home-Start befrienders. There is a huge unsatisfied demand for Home-Start branches.
§ Branch costs—the organiser, training and expenses of volunteers—are paid by the local authority. Clearly no local authority is going to pay unless its own professionals find the branch effective. There is perhaps a special effectiveness in one volunteer to one family in the family's own home.
§ Then there is the Child Development Programme started by Dr. Walter Barker of Bristol University in 1979. That offers support even more widely, though much less intensively, than Home-Start, reaching some 20,000 families a year. Health visitors and experienced mothers, all specially trained, visit an allotted family at home for an hour a month. They encourage the parents to set themselves targets, praising them for the degree to which they take control of their own situation. Again the visitor can be kicked out by the family—but seldom is. Evaluation shows low abuse and better health in the families concerned. It is a double breakthrough that health visitors are involved. Their powers and those of social workers to take children into care mean that they are not normally always welcome. Moreover there are conflicting pressures within the health visiting profession, some urging, as I respectfully do, that health visitors should and others urging that they should not befriend parents in addition to their normal duties.
§ Smaller in scale but much more intensive is the work of the admirable family service units, attaching trained workers to families overwhelmed by problems. But there are few voluntary services offering the one-to-one continued befriending in the family's own home that Home-Start, the Child Development Programme and family service units provide. They need to expand as much as the maintenance of their standards allows, and perhaps others should study their methods. The splendid Pre-school Playgroups Association encourages parents to co-operate in providing play facilities all over the country, and that improves their parenting skills.
§ Allow me now to praise the donors: individuals, foundations, charities, companies and Ministers. They naturally want to know which family support services 448 tend to be effective. I am pleased to say that the Rowntree Foundation is keenly interested and is commissioning a study of family support options, with an agenda for research. It is self-apparent that preventive work, particularly befriending, must be some help to many families, whether or not research can isolate the befriending factor in order to prove it.
§ Assuming that not all help is effective, the saving in misery, mischief and public money, even from partial success, must be large, especially where volunteers are used. Voluntary services, however, need money—much money —from individuals, charities, foundations and companies; but it is in the taxpayer's interests that effective voluntary services should maintain and expand their activities. That is where the Government come in: to encourage cost-effective voluntary services, especially in the preventive field.
§ There is a deeper problem that may, as things are, bedevil the co-operation in family support between local authorities and voluntary services. Social service departments, as your Lordships are well aware, are overwhelmed with crises: resources are tight and new Children Act duties, plus public anxiety about child abuse, mean that social service departments, with the best will in the world, are likely to do little on the preventive side. Since the mechanics of funding voluntary work in the field, over and above charitable donations, lie in grants from social service departments, the preventive side of the voluntary sector seems doomed to underfunding. Few directors of social services will cut spending on their own staff to increase spending on voluntary services however cost-effective such preventive voluntary services might be.
§ What can be done? I wonder whether the precedent of the Housing Corporation might suggest a parallel in the family support field. Some public money could then be directed at crucial and effective preventive efforts.
§ The Motion expresses the hope that churches and voluntary services will seek even more ways to help the parents of today and tomorrow who need and want family support. Above all, the Motion recognises the blessing of good enough parenting and aims to encourage its further spread. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying how much I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for introducing the debate. It provides a welcome opportunity to consider the ways in which not just voluntary organisations but public policy can and should support parents in the difficult task of bringing up children today. As I am sure the noble Lord will agree, all the voluntary organisations that he has listed are clear that without adequate social policies to support families their task is an impossible one.
To argue that we need properly thought out family policies is not to say that parents do not have the prime responsibility for bringing up their children. Of course they do. But it is the task of governments to 449 provide the conditions in which they can achieve that successfully. Unfortunately, for many parents they do not exist. They are struggling against a tide of poverty and deprivation which wears them down and induces a sense of hopelessness, sometimes amounting to despair. A few parents are neglectful and irresponsible. They are to be found in all social groups. But the vast majority want to do the best that they can for their children—to see them succeed and to see them turn out as well-adjusted and happy people who will in turn become good parents themselves. When they fail, it is often because all the cards are stacked against them. Their own lives are just too stressful and difficult to make them effective parents. No amount of guidance, advice or parental education will improve their children's chances in those circumstances.
Parents whose own self-image has been undermined by unemployment, poor housing and poverty will often be too preoccupied by their own difficulties to provide the best environment for their children. However, it is not just parents who are poor who require financial help in bringing up their children. The costs of rearing a child are much higher than many of us realise. The National Foster Care Association has calculated that the average direct cost of bringing up a child from birth to the age of 16 is £42,000. At the same time as coping with all the extra costs of being parents, the average couple's income goes down. The hours that they can work are reduced because of the lost opportunity for overtime and bonuses. Above all, they lose income because so many mothers either stop working altogether or reduce their hours of work. A further 1.8 million women would be in employment were it not for their child-care responsibilities. The opportunity costs, therefore, of having children are considerable.
In the light of those figures on the cost of having children and the effects on family income, is it not an absolute disgrace that child benefit—the one benefit that is specifically for children—has fallen by 18 per cent. in real terms since 1979 as a result of freezing it on a number of occasions? In the light of the figures, is it not right that there should be some horizontal redistribution from those of us without children, or whose children have grown up, to those with children? There is a great deal of talk about abolishing universal benefits, but that is one universal benefit which should not be abandoned if we want to help parents. One of the great advantages of child benefit is that it is universal and so is taken up by almost everyone who is eligible. That means that poor parents with large families will be helped automatically; but while the rates are so low, the help that they receive is inadequate. I shall say a few more words about child benefit when I refer to single parents.
Although I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said, that income is not the only factor affecting parenting, it must be a matter of great anxiety that there are approximately 3 million children in families living on or below income support levels. That is 25 per cent. of all children. Is it not a national scandal that a quarter of our children are living on the poverty line or below? In those circumstances, is it surprising 450 that parents have difficulties in caring adequately for their children? Should we not be ashamed that, according to the European figures, only Portugal has more people living in poverty than the UK? Should we not also be ashamed of the fact that within the European Community the rise in poverty in the first half of the 1980s was steepest in the UK? Nor has the situation improved since then. We must improve levels and take-up of family credit by poor working families if we are to reverse that trend.
The poorest group of people in our community is that of single parents with children. Those parents needing the most support are undoubtedly the ones coping alone with parenthood. While it is of course preferable for children to be brought up in families where both parents are present, many single parents make valiant efforts to succeed. In 1971, 8 per cent. of families with dependent children had lone parents; by 1987 the proportion had risen to 14 per cent., and in nine out of 10 of those families the mother was the lone parent. Widowhood accounts now for only a small proportion; marital breakdown is the main cause.
There are three main areas of policy where changes are needed to support single parents: child care, flexible working arrangements, child benefit and income support. Changes in policy in these areas are not just needed to ensure that mothers and children do not suffer from serious long-term deprivation following divorce; they are also needed to support all parents. Indeed, by reducing stress in families they may make eventual divorce less likely. In that sense they are an investment in family stability. Where divorce occurs, policy improvements in each of these areas will help to ensure that women in particular can cope better because they will be more independent and therefore more dependable with respect to their children.
First, we must do something about our lamentable record in the provision of child care. Of course, I agree with the noble Lord that child care must be of high quality. Only 2 per cent. of children under the age of three obtain publicly funded child care. In Denmark, 44 per cent. of children receive care; in France and Belgium it is between 20 and 25 per cent. Can the Minister say what kind of timetable the Government have for rectifying this?
For three and four year-olds the picture is somewhat better, with around 50 per cent. of children in the UK provided with publicly funded education or child care. However, again we lag behind our European partners. Lack of adequate care is the main reason for a relatively low level of employment among all mothers in Britain. Among lone mothers of children under five, only 7 per cent. are in full-time work, compared with 27 per cent. in Germany, between 44 and 49 per cent. in France, Belgium and Italy and 50 per cent. in Denmark. Unlike what is happening in the rest of Europe, the labour participation rate of single mothers in Britain actually fell in the 1980s.
Better child care facilities are needed for parents, but they will be especially helpful for lone parents. First, it will be easier for the mothers to work or to 451 obtain qualifications through education and training which will improve their job opportunities later. Secondly, it will allow them some time off from the relentless demands of small children 24 hours a day, which puts great pressure on parents who cannot share with their partners the daily task of meeting these demands. Thirdly, it improves the quality of mothers' lives by allowing them more contact with the adult world. As a result, they will be likely to be better parents. Lastly, by making it possible to work, it reduces their dependence on the state and/or their dependence on inadequate maintenance payments from the fathers of their children.
Having a full-time job and looking after children alone is not easy. Although it may suit some women, for many others it is nearly as stressful as the loneliness and isolation of caring for children alone. So we ought to allow all mothers to work shorter hours if they wish. But shorter working hours should not be accompanied by the existing disadvantages of part-time work—lower paid work, poor employment conditions and fringe benefits. We need new employment practices to integrate shorter hours and flexible working into employment patterns generally. We need to change employment law and the social security system.
The European Commission is taking a step forward in this respect through approving draft directives to give part-time workers the same access to vocational training, occupational services and benefits in cash and kind. Sadly, in the recent past the UK Government have not supported them. Indeed, the previous Secretary of State for Employment is on record as saying that he would fight them vigorously. Now that we have a woman in the post, perhaps we shall see a change of heart. All parents should also be entitled to leave for family reasons, for example, to care for a sick child. It should be available on the same basis as paid holidays.
Turning to cash payments, child benefit is particularly valuable for single parents. First, there is a premium for lone parents, although that could be higher. Secondly, child benefit continues to be paid when the parent takes a job, whereas means-tested income support is not. Therefore, it does not act as a disincentive to taking a job. The replacement of child benefit by means-tested benefits would increase the poverty trap, making it even more difficult for single parents to become self-supporting, which ought to be a policy goal. This is another reason why it is deeply regrettable that the Government have allowed the value of child benefit to decline.
Over two-thirds of single parents claim income support. Surviving on it means regrettably that they are living in poverty. One solution is to increase the benefits. That would help, but it is not a totally satisfactory solution. Moreover, it is unlikely that the benefits will ever be high enough for these families to live in comfort. The fundamental problem is that the lack of child care, labour market conditions and social security arrangements all combine to make it difficult for single parents to support themselves and their 452 children. Ways must be found to stop the social security system undermining work incentives and trapping lone parents in poverty.
If we attach importance to the way parents bring up their children, we must invest more in supporting all parents but especially lone parents in the way I have outlined. As I mentioned earlier, most of these parents are bringing up their children by themselves as a result of divorce and separation. Between one-third and two-fifths of marriages are now likely to end in divorce and 20 per cent. of children under 16 will witness the break up of their parents' marriage. During the 1970s, the divorce rate doubled so that during the 1980s approximately 150,000 couples were divorcing each year. Parents who are divorcing need help and advice on how to minimise the damaging effects it can have on their children. All couples contemplating divorce should have access to counselling and conciliation services so that they can, if they choose, get help to separate with a minimum of conflict.
The interests of children involved in separation and divorce, as well as the public expenditure incurred through family breakdown, fully justify public support for counselling and conciliation services. I hope that in replying the Minister will be able to say something about whether the Government will give more support to the organisations providing these services.
Support is also needed for those agencies advising on the difficult role of being step-parents. While remarriage can greatly improve the material circumstances of divorced parents, it can lead to conflict and stress as step-children and step-parents struggle to relate successfully to each other. Being a successful step-parent is as important as being a successful parent.
Let me now turn to the provision of education for parenthood and advice and guidance for parents about how to cope with the problems of child rearing.
My Lords, I have not refrained from interrupting because the noble Baroness is going right outside the terms of the motion which concerned the voluntary services. We are hearing in effect a recapitulation of many pledges of the party opposite. I had hoped that we might discuss what could be done by the voluntary services to help parents who need it. I am not quarrelling with the noble Baroness on some of the substance of what she said, although I could easily controvert some of her remarks, but I think it was outside the Motion.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I completely disagree with the noble Lord. I began by saying that all the voluntary organisations which he had listed have said on countless occasions that they cannot operate unless public social services are adequate to support families with children. I am now laying out why those services need to be improved. I wish to go on to say a little about the voluntary organisations. I believe that what the noble Lord said is totally uncalled for and unjustified.
Both the statutory services and voluntary organisations have an important part to play as regards guidance and education. I have always been somewhat 453 sceptical about trying to provide much practical education for parenthood of a detailed kind for pupils at school. Young people seem likely to be more receptive when actually faced with parenthood themselves. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said earlier, what adolescents can benefit from is well-led discussions with other adults—whether teachers or youth leaders—about the huge demands of parenthood and the difficulties parents face. For example, getting them to understand both sides in conflicts with their own parents can be productive.
Preparation for parenthood should be provided for all parents expecting their first child. Antenatal care focusing on the health of mothers and babies is fine, but it is not enough. Fathers too must be prepared for being parents. Again this is an area where partnerships between professionals, voluntary support workers and parents themselves might be developed. However, volunteers need training in this area too if they are to be effective. Education and advice should not be cut off once the health visitor has made her last visit. All of us who have been parents have at one time or another got close to breaking point with a screaming baby in the middle of the night, a toddler who will not eat or a four year-old who will not sit down. As the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said, the work of voluntary organisations such as Home-Start and the family service unit is immensely valuable and perhaps could be extended with more funding.
One of the most interesting experiments in day-to-day support and advice to help parents is that provided by the Children's Society family and neighbourhood centres. The society rightly allows those who take part to decide on the facilities they need rather than imposing them from above.
All voluntary organisations are short of money and many of them have to spend disproportionate time and effort on fund raising. I hope the Minister will say whether the Government would consider giving more support to initiatives of the kind the Children's Society has started. The society can only run about 50 family and neighbourhood centres and there ought to be more.
Finally, the educational system has a role to play in helping parents. In training teachers we have perhaps focused a little too much on the children and not enough on their parents. Teachers must work in partnership with parents and support them where their children are facing learning difficulties or discipline problems. Teachers who specialise in pastoral work must be particularly sensitive to the vital part that parents play in the all-round performance of pupils. Sometimes teachers will need to refer parents to other agencies, but much useful support can be given through good pastoral work by teachers themselves. Again, however, in-service training is needed to enable teachers to develop the right skills.
The subject we are debating is wide. I have tried to focus, justifiably I think, on the importance of improving government policies that relate to the family. If those policies are taken seriously by the Government, more progress will be made in the way 454 parents bring up their children than can be achieved by any other change. It will also make it far easier for voluntary bodies to provide the help and friendship to which the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, referred, as any of those organisations will be the first to say.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, first I owe an apology to the House. Until arriving in the Chamber, and indeed for a few moments after that, I was under what turns out to have been the mistaken impression that this was a two-and-a-half-hour timed debate to be followed by another. I have another longstanding engagement. Believing this to be a two-and-a-half-hour debate I had supposed that it did not matter that I have to leave at half past five. I considered that it would perhaps be unduly scrupulous to scratch my name from the list of speakers. As I have not done so, I beg the forgiveness of the House.
I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for introducing this topic. It is both far-reaching and important. I agree entirely with what he said about the importance of voluntary bodies. I agree with his comments because, among many other reasons, it can be absolutely vital for parents to have a certain amount of time off. I recall attending a function last year organised by Gateway to raise a scholarship in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton—I believe the noble Lord is no longer in the Chamber—which was designed for precisely that purpose. That is the kind of thing we must all welcome.
I believe more generally that the noble Lord is on to something here. In 17th century political thought the family was regularly referred to as a little commonwealth. One may think that unduly literal, but it makes a point of some importance. A great many of our ideas about authority and about society are formed inside families. I learnt, for example, that it was possible to persuade authority by reason if one tried hard enough. I am not always certain that it was a good lesson. There is definitely something going wrong here. I am not sure what it is or why that should be.
I remember reading a passage in a work by Konrad Lorenz which stated that if one came from the country it was difficult to learn to walk down a crowded street without saying good morning. As it happened the day after reading that passage I was walking down Oxford Street. I observed a three year-old who believed that good manners demanded that he say good morning to every person he passed. His mother was becoming quite distracted. I am sure that the three year-old went home believing all grown-ups are hypocrites.
If there is one thing the noble Lord said with which I agree more profoundly than anything else, it is that it is difficult to be a good parent. It is also an area where, even when one has recognised a problem, one must accept that only a small part of that problem lies within the authority of the state. There is nothing more difficult than for the state to set out to change a culture. It does not have the authority to do so and it 455 does not have the means of penetration. There is a problem of changing arrangements of which the state may know nothing.
When I was in the States I recall reading a report in the New York Times which described one of those innumerable family behaviour surveys. The survey concerned dinner times. One teenage girl asked of the reporter, "Are you telling me that there are some families that sit down and eat together?". Clearly, that might cause concern; equally clearly, it is not the kind of thing we can easily set out to change by legislation. As my noble friend Lord Tordoff said to me, this matter seems to come under the principle of subsidiarity.
Expectations of the state have changed drastically in this area over the centuries. I recall reading a petition addressed to Archbishop Laud in 1640 from a man who asked the archbishop to mend his marriage. However eager the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry may be to help with such a problem, I am sure he would be forced to say in the end that therein the patient must minister to himself. We do not have the authority to do more than help in this area.
When dealing with children over 16 one has to say, like a group of 17th century deputy lieutenants, "We have a persuasive but no compulsive power." Just as it is easy to over-rate the power of the state, it is also easy to over-rate the power of parents. Reading reports from Malmö in recent times it is tempting to say that that marks a failure of discipline by parents. However, I recall reading a report after disturbances at the Chelsea ground a few years ago. The disturbances were televised. The mother of one of the hooligans observed what her son was doing. When he came home he found his bed outside in the street and the door of his home barred against him. One cannot say that that mother was unconcerned about disciplining her son but whether she did right or wrong is a much more difficult question. I shall not go into the matter now. Parental authority at that kind of age is in danger of becoming a nuclear deterrent which is effective only so long as it is not used. It is a great deal more difficult for parents than we sometimes make out, or so at least as a parent I like to think for I must declare an interest in that view.
I have read the Motion a good many times, and since the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, I have read it again. It seems to me that the disjunctive "and" in the middle of the Motion allows us to talk both about the way parents bring up their children and about the importance of voluntary bodies. I hope that that is a correct reading of the Motion. When we consider what the state can do a great deal of that comes back to money because, although the people and the emotions may be the stones, in any family the money is to some extent the cement. I do not wish to make out that the cement is the most important aspect, but it is the part to which the state can most usefully contribute and therefore the part most usefully discussed in this House.
We have heard something of child benefit. On that subject we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and, although he has hidden 456 his light under a bushel, also to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph himself. I listened with great pleasure recently to Mr. Peter Lilley on "The World at One" reiterating the Government's commitment to child benefit. I listened with great amusement to his pleasure at being outflanked from the right by the honourable Member for Monklands East. I do not know whether the honourable Member for Monklands East will listen to what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, but if he does not, I might look forward with equal amusement to a Labour government being outflanked from the left by the House of Lords. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, will find opposite numbers on the Labour Benches.
School meals are clearly something to which the state can contribute. They are a vital part of adequate diet, and adequate diet is an essential part of adequate social relations. There are a number of other very specific areas where the state can contribute. I agree on the whole, and in normal circumstances, with the argument that 16 and 17 year-olds are usually better off at home. However, there are cases of parents who are themselves on benefit throwing out 16 and 17 year-olds because, since they do not receive benefits, the parents cannot afford to keep them. There may be something useful which the state could do here. It could allow income support child premium to continue up to the age of 18 when the child acquires an entitlement in his or her own right. Those suggestions may be peripheral to the main problem but they are measures which we could take and therefore might be worth thinking about.
I am also glad that the noble Baroness raised the question of hours of work. Other things being equal, it is better for children to be brought up by two parents than by one, though speaking myself as one from a broken home, occasionally listening to what is said on the subject I understand why people with disabilities become sensitive to the way they are talked about. I am reminded of a remark made by Mr. Austin Mitchell, who I think I may quote verbatim since he was talking to the press and not in another place. He was asked at the beginning of the last summer Recess what he was going to do. He said that he looked forward to rediscovering the whereabouts of his constituency and the names of his children. With some allowance for effect, we all know what he was talking about.
There are here two contradictory trends. Especially in the public services, there is a trend towards lengthening hours of work, what the business section of one of the daily newspapers recently described as "macho" hours of work. At the same time there is a trend towards more and more employment of women. I welcome that trend warmly. I agree with Lord Palmerston's argument for Catholic emancipation: it is not expedient to exclude so many able persons from the public service. However, I wonder whether there are two contradictory trends and we need to consider which will give way.
In the past, in order for men to work the hours they have worked we have depended on the wife as an auxiliary worker, looking after her husband and getting him to work at the right time. When both work 457 there is a limit to the extent to which she can do that. To put it at its lowest dimension, there has to be someone there to let in the plumber. Therefore, if both parents are to know the children I wonder whether the Government might look with slightly more sympathy than hitherto on the 48 hour directive and whether they might consider slightly more carefully how far efficiency in the public services can go in the direction of longer hours.
I also wonder whether, in considering voluntary bodies, as in the noble Lord's argument, some account might be taken of the virtues of the tutorial system in universities. That system is, among a thousand other things, a form of use of voluntary bodies for picking up social problems. It saves public services a vast amount of time and work by acting as an early warning system. If we move to a mass production series of universities where there are no tutorials, I believe that there will be a loss in that area.
In preparing for the debate I have been reading a book by Jane Mattinson for the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies, on the effect of unemployment on marriage. It seems that unemployment has a merciless knack of playing on the weak spots in a marriage. And every marriage, even the very strongest, has weak spots somewhere. I believe that the divorce rate for the unemployed is twice the national average. It was not the specific purpose of the study to deal with the bringing up of children, but in passing one picks up a number of cases which I suspect are typical of a great many more: an unemployed father, depressed and unable to face the task of caring for the children; a family referred for counselling because the child was caught stealing at school; a child in hospital because of feeding difficulties due to tension in the home; and a family referred for counselling because of the repeated booting out of a 19 year-old son. Those cases are probably the tip of the iceberg. There are other complications which show the existence of stress; for example, a rise of 20 per cent. in referrals to GPs. I shall not give more figures, but those are matters which must affect the atmosphere for children.
I have been arguing for some time that we should think more about the cost of unemployment. In the past I have put the argument in pure PSBR terms. However, I believe that the noble Lord's Motion has uncovered the fact that there is a wider dimension. There is the wider cost in terms of child upbringing.
We need to think about work, about part-time work, about pay for part-time work and about legal protection for part-time work. In all those fields the state could do something to make the very difficult job of bringing up children a little easier than it is.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Coventry
My Lords, we must all be greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for bringing to the fore a significant, indeed crucial, theme for our society, helping us to look at parenting and family life.
Tolstoy introduces one of the greatest of novels with the remark that: 458All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".Great is the variety of forms of family life in this country at present. While we in the Church may want to enable as many children as possible to grow up in a setting provided by a loving, stable marriage, we must do all we can to affirm and support parents in a whole variety of situations. We must strive to help those facing many kinds of difficulty, especially those who suffer the burdens of poverty and unemployment and those trapped in the cycle of disadvantage. They may feel particularly inadequate. They may have little secure love in their own background, brave as I have found many of them to be.
Increasingly we realise that at every level people need nothing less than a new kind of more supportive society. There cannot be just a narrow focus even on the nuclear family left on its own. How many of us as parents on our family holidays have found help and relief in having another family alongside or, if single people, having friends or relatives with us? I believe that we have here a hint of what a renewed Church could offer as a framework.
The Churches must welcome the discussion today because, alongside the many great voluntary agencies and networks to which reference has been made, the Churches have a special part to play and resources to bring to bear. The Board of Social Responsibility of the General Synod even now is embarking on what I hope will be a major study of the family. Churches have a vantage point: plant and people in every part of the country. The Church is well placed to help provide the network of support—a kind of extended family—that so many parents need. Its contribution must go beyond the traditional preparation of baptism, which for a small minority is still today forging relations between parents, clergy and lay visitors.
Church members and Christian agencies in growing numbers of places where the Church is coming alive are working to affirm parents, to help them know that they are performing a profoundly important task, to protect them from family breakdown before it threatens, to give them confidence in face of the pressures and temptations to which they and their children are increasingly exposed and to help those with poor experience of parenting in their own childhood to find new role models.
There are new initiatives in the Church. The Mothers' Union with its long tradition of promoting family life is breaking new ground. In all denominations there are many new Christian networks, as we have heard. In almost every diocese of our Church, FLAME (Family Life and Marriage Education) has been set up. Its work is spreading far beyond the confines of the Church, promoting community education in parenting, in marriage and in family life. FLAME is building confidence in parents, helping them to change and develop their skills. Its philosophy is to encourage "good enough" parenting so that parents can overcome that persecuting ideal which haunts us all.
Recently a conference in my own diocese was attended by a whole variety of parents. Gifted 459 speakers presented a basic parenting programme with an attractive handbook. There was an enthusiastic response. New local initiatives are now spreading across the whole area. Parishes, churches and schools will run courses. Parents were changed by the experience. They began to learn how to avoid being either dictatorial or permissive. They felt to some extent free from the guilt which haunts them. On their return they found themselves attracting friends and neighbours into a growing movement of parent meetings. All kinds of families are involved: single, separated, broken or mixed. They are discovering new ways of disciplining and responding responsibly to children in family meetings and other ways.
Today in the most disadvantaged areas, where the greatest poverty and pressure lie, local churches are trying to join in setting up the family centres of which we have heard, together with some of the great agencies, such as The Children's Society and Save the Children Fund as well as the Church Urban Fund and the local authority. I have visited family centres in Coventry which are working in partnership with parents, training local parents to be helpers, giving them new confidence in a place where it is quite a miracle that it happens, and offering space where hard pressed mothers and single parents can bring their children. In fact they are beginning to promote a new sense of what the community can do to support parents in the neighbourhood.
The work of Christian child care agencies, such as Barnardos, The Children's Society and the National Children's Home, is focusing increasingly not on institutions or taking children out of the community but on work with families in such neighbourhood centres. It is vital work and the need is vast. We are still only at the edge of it. It is so vital that it should expand.
In so many areas family life has broken down under the pressure of poverty. Churches are struggling to find an alternative family and alternative parenting for children who will be future parents. There have been some superb schemes of that kind in Coventry. I recall one called PACE where I saw young offenders being changed. It had a 70 per cent. success rate among the children who came to it. It was the local authority and The Children's Society who undertook that marvellous project together. It folded for lack of funds. To me that was a great tragedy.
There is now a new scheme, the Coventry Youth Challenge. It is rather like Home Start in some ways. It is based on a 15-day training programme for young people at risk. It helps them take responsibility for their own lives, make positive changes and take steps toward their own parenthood when it comes. The follow-up will be for one year, with regular meetings with a "committed partner", an adult volunteer. It is a venture of enormous potential but it will need more than voluntary or local funding.
The Churches and the voluntary agencies are at work in all those areas, working very creatively, as we heard. For them it is a period of hope and new activity. But they need government support. I believe that it is important that we should call upon Her Majesty's Government to work together with the 460 Churches and voluntary agencies to support those vital efforts with consistent, long-term funding. So much is at stake.
For our part, we in the Church must be more and more widely involved. This work has an obvious spiritual dimension. What could be closer to our essential message than helping parents and children to know that they are loved and accepted and so to become loving and accepting? What could be nearer to us than helping parents relate to children in a way that will make them more responsible, as I have seen so many schemes effectively doing at the present time? Those children in turn will become caring, responsible adults, playing a part in improving society, making the world a more just and peaceful place where more families—single people too, for that matter—can find not a variety of misery but the same essential happiness.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, it gives me the greatest possible pleasure to speak at this stage of the debate because I shall be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his most helpful and fortunate first speech in your Lordships' House. In fact he has darted in and out of my life rather like an orbiting comet. He first swam into my ken briefly at school as an absolutely normal person—of whom there are not too many at that age, as noble Lords have already remarked. He then disappeared on a kind of academic orbit, lecturing in Berlin, Cambridge and Nigeria, coming back to Cambridge as a Fellow and then as a head of college at Birmingham. He sprang into light again in my life as general secretary of the Church Missionary Society, for which I was briefly partly responsible. He disappeared again on an ecclesiastical orbit, first to Derby then to Coventry and now delightfully he is in this House. But even here he is a temporary illumination because under the rules of your Lordships' House when he retires he will only be elevated, as it were, just above the horizon in your Lordships' Dining Room and on the steps of the Throne. It is a great pleasure to congratulate him on a constructive, enlightened and welcome speech.
The Motion of my noble friend Lord Joseph—my noble and sensitive friend—suggests first that something may be wrong with the way in which parents bring up their children and secondly that there may be something that can be done about it. The fact that he tabled the Motion at all rightly emphasises that both those circumstances are of real relevance to the welfare of the nation. Had I had any doubts of it, they would have been firmly laid to rest when in 1988 I was asked by the then Secretary of State for Education to chair a committee of inquiry into discipline in schools. I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for returning so soon to that document. She had to deal with it only last week in another context and I had not expected her to be at the Box today. But it is relevant in this context too and, I regret to warn her, in many others, should she think of picking up other portfolios.
In our inquiry we found that the different ways in which parents brought up their children had a marked 461 effect on the behaviour of those children when they got to school. That was no surprise to us. But it was not an assumption we made; it was a fact which we adduced and found to be borne out by research. The most consistent correlation between pupil behaviour and family circumstance seemed clearly to be not with its material resources but with the style of parenthood. Where a family was suffering from poverty or other deprivation and there was an effect on the child's behaviour it frequently appeared to be not direct but as a result of the effect which it had on the parents, which was reflected in their treatment of the child.
It was also clear to us, as it was to my noble friend Lord Joseph, that families in similar difficult circumstances sometimes brought up children whose behaviour was perfectly satisfactory. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that that is not to dismiss claims that poverty bears hard on the family. It does, but it is far from the only factor. The questions of both upbringing and of school/parent relationships therefore became relevant to our inquiry. Since behaviour in school is in some ways not only a precursor but also a predictor of adult behaviour, I believe that it is relevant to this debate.
Research bears out the impression that children who present serious behaviour problems in school are likely to have experienced one of two extremes of treatment: either neglect or rejection, or a combination of both. It also shows that children's capacity to feel and show concern for others is influenced by the degree of concern shown by their parents to them. Research undertaken in the 1970s but still valid today indicates that the most violent boys were likely to be those whose parents' response to their behaviour was one of two extremes: it was either permissive or punitive. Permissiveness can be an expression of neglect, and severe or frequent physical punishment can be a token of rejection. I do not refer to the measured and considered chastisement that was more common in our own youth than that of our successors. I refer to children whose bad behaviour teachers told us they would not report because they knew it would result in a severe beating by parents to which the response would be further bad behaviour.
A large number of people wrote to us suggesting the reasons for bad parenting. Those people fell into roughly two groups—as I believe does the whole world. They are the tough and the tender. The tough believe that the parents of pupils who behave badly tend to be irresponsible, immoral and hostile to the values represented by the schools. The tender believe that parents tend to be so distressed by factors such as marital breakdown and poverty that they bring up emotionally disturbed children who behave badly in school as a result.
Both views contain some truth but neither contains the whole truth. The tough view rightly emphasises parental responsibility for bringing children up properly. However, it overestimates in most cases, but I now believe not in all cases, the conflict between the values respected by parents and upheld by schools and society at large. The tender view, in highlighting the 462 real problems of family stress, comes dangerously close to absolving parents from any responsibility for their children's behaviour by suggesting that some have become incapable of positive action.
Whatever the situation, the result is bad behaviour, often seriously bad, at school. That is a problem that one cannot just shut away in school and forget. Just as all children have to go to school, so all children have to grow up. When they grow up they carry what they have learned, and the behaviour that they have established as their norm, into society at large. The child is truly father to the man. If we can improve the behaviour of children we shall be a long way towards solving the problems of the adult society to which they will eventually belong.
Only a few of the skills of parenting are instinctive. The remainder have to be learned. Teaching children to relate co-operatively to adults and other children may in some part be instinctive. But self-respect, respect for others, concern for others, self-discipline, honesty and truthfulness have to be learned. Ideally those qualities should have been learned by their parents when they were themselves children. They should have been taught the same unchanging lessons by their parents. In the last analysis, it is that transmission of standards and values that determines the character of the nation. Its changes are marked as clearly in our history as our changing climate is marked in the growth rings of a forest tree.
Perhaps I may change the analogy. The transmission of standards is the golden chain on which not all but a very great deal of both our wealth and our worth depends. However, the child of a deprived teenage single mother is unlikely to have received those essential ingredients of her personality at her mother's inexperienced and wayward knee and will therefore be unable to pass them on if in particular, as is likely, she in her turn also becomes a teenage single mother. The golden chain has then snapped and unless someone steps in to mend it all her descendants will be deprived also.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Joseph that there is a role for voluntary agencies outside the schools. But surely it must be wrong in such an emergency—and it is an emergency for the child concerned—not to make use in every way available of the years in which young people are not only at their most formative stage but are perhaps for the only time in their lives part of a pastoral and tutorial system which is designed to give instruction and is capable of making good some of the instruction that their parents failed to give them.
Before I revert to voluntary agencies specifically, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me a momentary reference to what goes on in schools because it is all part of the matrix of behaviour and relationships which we now address. In writing our report, we tackled the issue at two levels. Our first recommendation was so obvious as to be banal, but to have left it out would have been an inexcusable omission. We urged parents simply to provide firm but affectionate guidance in the home and to ensure that they set a good and consistent example to their children. The key words are "firm but affectionate 463 guidance" and the key word omitted is "love". That is the basis of all emotional security in the family. Unlike affectionate guidance, it cannot be introduced at will when it is absent. Fortunately those who learn to give firm, affectionate guidance often find themselves providing love too as a result.
We also recommended that the Secretary of State should ensure that education for parenthood is fully covered as a cross-curricular theme in the national curriculum; and that governors and teachers should ensure that it is fully covered in the school personal and social educational programme outside the national curriculum. I sought to discover for myself what progress has been made on that front. The answers to my soundings have not been reassuring. The Professional Association of Teachers states that,the problem with schools at the moment is that there is pressure on curricular time created by the mandatory subjects in Key stage 3 and 4; this pressure is such that all the cross curricular themes are tending to be squeezed out because they are not protected by statutory orders in the same way as the mandatory subjects are".The association acknowledges that the National Curriculum Council has issued guidance on the delivery of each of those themes but adds that,it is, after all, only guidance".It also points out that it is not easy to decide exactly where preparing for parenthood fits among the five cross-curricular themes. Is it covered by health education or education for citizenship? Or, as the terminology seems to suggest, does it form part of the cross-curriculum dimension called personal and social development? Surely it must be wrong, as my noble friend said with some force, to hold, as some schools and some governing bodies apparently hold, that it is part of sex education and therefore outside the national curriculum altogether. For reasons that the noble Lord has already given, that seems to me wholly to misunderstand the subject and why there are some children to whom it must be taught.
My impression is of a wide divergence of practice, with some children in need very well served but many left out in the cold. I should be glad to have the Minister's view of the weight given to the subject, in cases of need, both as a cross-curricular theme and as part of non-curricular personal and social development work. If, as I suspect, the Minister has as yet only a subjective view, will she please ask the National Curriculum Council to ensure that at least one of its pilot projects monitoring the delivery of cross-curricular themes covers education for parenthood—and covers it thoroughly?
Schools can and do contribute a good deal to help parents in bringing up their children by taking parents into their confidence and making it possible for the authority of each to support the other. Schools can undertake that by effective induction arrangements for new parents and new pupils and by ensuring that parents are always fully informed of the school's behaviour policy and any changes to it. They can follow the course recommended by the National Association of Head Teachers and draw up home-school voluntary agreements. I received one such example from it last week.
464 Section 36 of the Children Act 1989 provides through education supervision orders an instrument whereby a member of the education welfare service can be brought into a special relationship with the child and his family who are in need of help. The national secretary of the Association of Chief Education Social Workers reminds us that, while most of your Lordships used to consider your home as a refuge from your school if one were needed—and for some it was—for some children today school is a real refuge from home. In those circumstances the present base of education social workers or education welfare workers outside school with the LEA makes them usefully distinct from school staff and therefore sometimes better able to mediate between home and school, thus offering the support for parents that my noble friend so eloquently asked for from voluntary organisations. I hope that as the delegation of budgets to schools under the Education Reform Act proceeds the department will monitor that status and protect it so that those important workers can continue to act as friends and advocates to the family and not be seen just as enforcement or attendance officers in disguise. The association is training people for that purpose.
My noble friend drew attention in particular to the need for voluntary associations to help parents in bringing up their children. I have tried to show that those difficulties show themselves in school and can, in some part, be tackled either by the school itself or by the local education authority in association with it. But, like my noble friend, I am convinced that the voluntary sector has a great deal to offer and is actually stronger than any statutory provision because it is separate from the official hierarchy of authority. That is often seen as the enemy of the family, however benevolent its approach may be. How useful it would be if there were a voluntary organisation which had both that distinction and the full use of a school's resources.
One of the bodies mentioned by my noble friend falls exactly into that role. It is the organisation known as Schools Outreach. I am well fitted to commend it because I confess that when Gordon Bailey first sought to involve me I was doubtful whether he could deliver. I am now entirely convinced that he can.
Schools Outreach operates by training workers to go into schools not as teachers but as friends to the pupils. They are adults. They are enormously helpful to the staff and enormously supportive to the children. They involve themselves with the children's families and parents when that is called for. A preliminary step is often to give a difficult child its first, recent confidence-building experience of a good relationship with an adult. That can be the first and most difficult step towards re-establishing the good relationship at home for which we are working. In the words of one of the organisation's supporters, when at home children are not being given the moral standards, ethics and social behaviour that they need. But Schools Outreach workers take those standards into the schools and show the children how to care and to be compassionate. They repair the link with the home and the parents.
465 My growing experience of young people in trouble bears out my noble friend's analysis. It has taught me a most important lesson; that behind many of the sorry stories that lead young people into crime and into custody there has been the starvation of love from the beginning. Love goes by different names as we grow older. In our teens, unless it is focused on a girl friend, we prefer to call it "caring". The intervention of caring adults is a vital ingredient in rescuing young people from all the waste and sorrow that delinquency and criminality bring in their wake. That can be done in schools and parents can be assisted by the three means which I have suggested. Alternatively, it can be provided outside the school in the form of intermediate treatment. That subject, however, is for the next debate in which I look forward to participating and hearing in reply another noble friend at the Dispatch Box. It is appropriate that this debate should be dealing with a subject which, if it fails, will be picked up in the next. The children who lose from the failure of parenting fall into delinquency, criminality and custody and eventually their lives are ruined. That is the extent of the importance of the subject which my noble friend has raised.
I conclude with a commonplace but important observation. If my generation had been as diligent in teaching the Gospel and Christian precepts as was my father's in teaching ours, and if it had been as supportive of our churches and chapels —and, I dare say, our synagogues—I believe that many of the ills that we have discussed would not have befallen us and that many of the children whom we have discussed would now be in a better state than they are. I hope that that lesson will not be lost on our successors and that those of your Lordships who share that view will share also in the work of putting it across.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Elton in thanking the right reverend Prelate for his maiden speech. Later I shall tell a short story to illustrate what he said. I also thank my noble friend Lord Joseph for introducing the debate. I well remember that when he was Secretary of State for Social Services he made a notable speech on the cycle of deprivation. Its contents were true then and they are true today.
Your Lordships may ask what right I have to speak in the debate because I am not a parent. I have not had children. About 10 years ago the Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, as it was then called, wrote to me asking whether I, as "one of them", would attend its conference at Butlin's camp. I was appalled and wondered what the tabloid press would make of the suggestion. I wrote to say that I was not "one of them" but that I would attend the conference. The council wrote back: "You are one of us because you are a children's officer and you have 300 children". I thought that I must be a biological wonder and that I had gone up in the world.
466 I wish to begin by dealing with the structure of the voluntary sector. Without a good structure the voluntary sector cannot operate. My noble friend's Motion asks us to consider,the case for voluntary bodies to provide help and friendship where the parents so wish".My noble friend recognised in his speech that the voluntary sector must work in co-operation and in partnership with the statutory sector—that is, education, social services and health—and with the ministries and the government. Therefore, the combination must be tripartite.
I turn to the most distasteful subject of coinage, finance and money. As the right reverend Prelate said, the people of this country are extremely generous to voluntary organisations. In our debates on the Charities Bill we heard that an increasing amount of money is given to charities in this country. We also heard that many more charities are being formed to meet the needs which now exist. We face a dilemma because charities cannot operate only on gifts from the public, generous though the public are. Therefore, if the work of the voluntary organisations is to be sustained and is to continue the government and the local authorities must support them financially.
A number of local authorities and government departments make grants to voluntary organisations. However, the way in which they do so makes the running of those organisations extremely difficult. Local authorities must prepare their estimates between September and April. That applies also to the voluntary organisations but they are not told until April what grants will be made to them by government departments or by local authorities. Therefore, the voluntary organisations are uncertain about whether the staff will be able to carry on. I suggest that the Government and local authorities should provide core funding for the voluntary organisations which they support. The organisations would then know that they could keep their staff and could continue in operation. Of course, extra financial help from the government would be most welcome.
We cannot talk about voluntary organisations unless we talk about how they are run, the money that they have, the way in which it is given and the method by which it is administered. I am sorry that that is a rather uninteresting introduction to my speech.
I deal now with people working in voluntary organisations. A little while ago I spent some time with the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association. That association has a large number of volunteers, many of whom are the wives of servicemen. When I spoke to the volunteers they said that the volunteers must know what they are doing and must be trained. That struck a chord with me. I do not suggest that volunteers should go to university or should undertake a two or three year course, but I believe that it is dangerous if volunteers working in voluntary organisations do not know exactly what they are doing. To some extent, they must be helped.
Also, many more local authorities could use volunteers. I know that that is not using a voluntary organisation. However, when I was the director of social services in Oxford I asked for more social work 467 staff and was told, perhaps quite rightly although I was sad about it at the time, that the authority did not have the money and I could not have more staff. I had to accept that situation, but the work had to be done. There was not at that time, as there is now, a voluntary organisation to do the work. Therefore, I appealed for volunteers. We provided a course for volunteers at the local college of further education and we used volunteers under the supervision of trained staff to help to do the work within the department. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said as regards Schools Outreach, it is possible, within the orbit of statutory organisations, to use volunteers. That is slightly off the point of this debate but I felt that it should be mentioned.
Volunteers have a duty to learn about their subject and to know what they are doing. For example, the honourable Mrs. Sieff has started a course for volunteers in both voluntary organisations and the statutory services. Of course, there is the Volunteer Centre which gives training and help to volunteers in both sectors. I am convinced that if volunteers are to give help, they must know about their subject.
On that point, I should say to the right reverend Prelate how important it is that we should know what we are teaching. I remember well that two small boys ran away from a home and the police were out looking for them. I had given those boys a very careful talk about how God was within them and was within all of us. Alas, that did not work. Obviously I did not know my subject properly because when ultimately they were found I stood outside their bedroom door and heard one little boy saying, "Oh dear, she said that God was within us". The other little boy said, "Well, that's all right. God ran away tonight and not us". Therefore, I failed. It is important—and I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will agree—that if, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, we are to try to hand on our Christian principles we should hand them on in the right way and not, as I did, in the wrong way.
I agree with my friend, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as regards the wording of the Motion, part of which states:bring up their children and to the case for voluntary bodies to provide help and friendship".If we are to do that we must have not only the structure, the money, the will and the skill but we must also know what it is we are providing for and where the greatest need lies.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Joseph that there are many women today who need and want help; indeed, many of them are seeking help. Like my noble friend Lord Joseph, I wish to mention various organisations. I have been particularly impressed by an organisation called New Pin. That seeks to improve the mental health of parents, preventing emotional and physical hurt to children. That organisation has six centres and is hoping to have many more; but there is a problem as regards finance.
All the voluntary organisations that I had intended to mention have already been referred to and therefore I shall not now do so. However, I believe also that we should be very careful about what we are doing. There 468 needs to be a certain amount of research carried out in this whole area as to where the needs lie, where the gaps are and how the problems are to he dealt with.
These days increasing demands are made on parents. How are those to be met? We need to know the relationship between parents and within their families. Everybody has the right to choose. Some parents choose to go to the statutory organisations for help but some parents do not wish to do that; neither do they wish to seek help from the voluntary organisations. There is an organisation called Parents Anonymous. A number of parents got together and set up an organisation. I congratulate those parents. They run jumble sales to raise money to pay the telephone bills. They arrange for parents to ring each other if they feel that they cannot stand life any more. That has nothing to do with anybody other than the parents themselves. Such organisations should be supported.
There are many various and outstanding organisations today, to which my noble friend Lord Joseph referred. Those organisations should be supported. There should be training and a proper structure by which they are supported. Parents should look after themselves if they so wish but they should know where they can go if they need help.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am extremely glad that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, has brought forward this subject today. He does our children a service by proposing this debate on the importance of how parents bring up their children and ways in which the voluntary sector can help them.
The way the law defines parents' relationships with their children is fundamental. Under the Children Act, in England and Wales we have moved some way in the right direction; that is, away from old concepts of parental ownership of children and towards the concept of parental responsibilities. That is surely central to this debate.
Regrettably, in my view, the Children Act does nothing to define the responsibilities of parents; but a month ago the Scottish Law Commission published proposals of reform of the relevant law in Scotland in its Report on Family Law. I believe that the commission's proposals are worthy of proper consideration south of the Border, too.
The commission suggests that parents' responsibilities should be defined and should include:safeguarding and promoting the child's health, development and welfareand providingin a manner appropriate to the child's stage of development, direction and guidance to the child".More radically, the commission proposes that those with parental responsibility should have a legal duty to consult their children about major decisions and take seriously their views. It is right and proper that children should be heard and taken seriously. Incidentally, the proposal does no more than implement the principle in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which 469 the Government ratified last December. While our Children Act extends the principle of consulting children, it does not extend to parents.
But the Law Commission also confronts bravely an issue which is absolutely central to improving the status of children and at the same time reducing the level of violence in society—aims which are surely common to all of us. It is the issue of parents' current rights to hit their children —that is, physical punishment. Here the commission proposes new limits for the criminal law: hitting children with implements or in a way which causes or could cause injury, or pain or discomfort lasting more than a very short time, would, if the proposals are implemented, become a criminal offence. Incidentally, in its report the commission reveals the results of an opinion poll which show that an overwhelming majority of the public—over 90 per cent.—favour banning these forms of punishment. It is high time that the Government took a lead on this issue and gave parents a clear message which they have already given foster carers and child minders; namely, that physical punishment is counter-productive and a dangerous way of child-rearing.
Three years ago the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and I helped to launch a campaign—at that time a lone voice—called EPOCH, which stands for End Physical Punishment of Children. We are no longer a lone voice. EPOCH's campaign for education and legal reform to end all physical punishment of children is now supported by most major child welfare and protection organisations including the NSPCC, the National Children's Home, the National Children's Bureau, Save The Children, the Health Visitors' Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the community paediatricians and about 30 others.
Early last year the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and I met, on behalf of EPOCH, Ministers from the Department of Health (Mrs. Bottomley) and the Home Office (Mr. John Patten). It is quite unusual to get Ministers from these two departments into one room to talk about children. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithful], will agree because I know that she has tried to do that quite often. While the Department of Health has lead responsibility for children, the Home Office has responsibility for the criminal law on cruelty and assault.
After this meeting, EPOCH received a letter from Mrs. Bottomley, now the Secretary of State for Health. It confirmed that her department had, through the Children Act regulations and guidance, implemented its policy that, outside the home, physical punishment has no place in the child care environment. But more significantly, I am glad to say, the Minister added that she was sympathetic,to the case for doing more to change the culture".Mrs. Bottomley meant our current culture which, like the law, does nothing to deter parents from using physical punishment.
470 But now we have the Scottish Law Commission's proposals. In its report the commission emphasises that it,accepts and regards as important, the arguments to the effect that physical punishments tend to escalate in severity, that parents using physical force may inadvertently cause damage, and that much abuse starts as ordinary punishment".The arguments are overwhelming and based in long-term research findings, well-documented by EPOCH and acknowledged by the commission. If we want to produce self-disciplined children and reduce the level of violence in society we must give parents a clear limit.
I wish to draw the attention of noble Lords to a pamphlet published in 1989 called The Extent of Physical Punishment in the UK. It describes the research of John and Elizabeth Newson. They conducted a long-term survey (starting in 1952) of child-rearing practices. They studied 700 families and interviewed mothers in their own homes as children reached their first, fourth, seventh, 11th and 16th birthdays. Two hundred families were followed up when the children were 19 years of age. In 1958 they found that 62 per cent. of mothers used physical punishment to discipline their one year-old babies. In the light of recent media attention which has raised public awareness about the physical abuse of children, changes might be expected, but in 1985 they found that 63 per cent. of mothers smacked their one year-olds. This is a random sample of 344 families.
The Newsons found a strong link between children's early experience and how they turned out. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has observed the link between physical punishment and later violence. The children who suffer physical punishment are much more likely to become troublesome at school; to truant; to become delinquent; and quite a high proportion achieve a criminal record.
In his pamphlet The Importance of Parenting, the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, says:Parenting that is not good enough can lead to misery for the children, and, as they grow up, failure at school, crime, violence, disregard for others and unhappiness for themselves".I suggest that physical punishment by parents undoubtedly contributes to that.
The Scottish Law Commission's proposals for the criminal law are probably right, providing a real deterrent for those who still beat children with implements or cause injury. But we in EPOCH, backed by a very powerful coalition of child welfare and professional organisations, believe that in addition family law is the right place for a clear statement that no physical punishment is acceptable.
The time has come to replace the outdated and potentially dangerous parental right of reasonable chastisement with parents' responsibility to guide and control their children. Since 1979 five European countries—Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Austria—have passed laws banning all physical punishment of children. In Germany a draft Bill is under consideration. Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child insists that states must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, educational and social action to protect children from, 471all forms of mental and physical violencewhen in the care of parents and others.
The first step towards changing the current culture of British parenting, which all too often relies on smacking or beating, is for the Government to give a lead and to use appropriate channels quite explicitly to discourage all physical punishment. In just two-and-a-half years EPOCH has circulated more than 600,000 leaflets giving advice to parents and other carers on avoiding smacking. I am glad to say that there is a huge demand. Surely that is the sort of voluntary initiative which should now receive government support.
The influence of parents on their children is, as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, so rightly emphasised, central and crucial. We believe that the time has come to emphasise parental responsibility, including the responsibility to use positive and non-violent ways of encouraging the sort of behaviour we all want from our children.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke about the findings of the Scottish Law Commission. In preparing for this debate I had it in mind to speak about that, but I am glad that I did not plan to do so because the noble Baroness has done it very much better than I could have done. I agree with every word that she said.
In Parliament there is frequent discussion of many matters concerning children and young people. Much time is spent considering that which is governed by legislation; namely, schooling, the health service, social services, children and parental rights and responsibilities and how children are dealt with when they break the law. As noble Lords will remember well, the Children Act was a major item in the parliamentary timetable. Yet, very curiously, we seldom turn our minds to the subject under discussion this afternoon, which is the part of children's lives that is at the very heart of all their needs. I refer to the kind of upbringing which their parents provide; the atmosphere, behaviour and relationships that children experience at home and the help which parents can enlist, apart from the statutory services, in this most demanding of all tasks.
It is all too easy to assume that, because the way in which parents bring up their children is to a great extent a private matter for them, it need not be taken into account in the formulation of public policy. That is clearly a mistaken point of view. Home is by far the strongest influence on every child. If parents do not succeed in their role it is doubly difficult for any statutory service to help. It is clearly in the public interest, as well as in the interests of children, that parents should have available to them as much information and advice as possible and in a form that they can accept and use.
One does not have to look far to see how important home influence is. A number of noble Lords have already given examples. My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the findings of a report on school discipline. International research suggests that the 472 home is by far the most significant factor on a child's general performance at school. A report in the early 1980s from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development looked at schools in 24 countries. It concluded that no matter where in the world a child lived—in Africa, Europe, Australia, the Far East or the United States of America—no matter what size or type of school the child attended—comprehensive, selective, state-funded or privately funded—and no matter what the income or social status of the child's parents, the main determining factor on that child's performance at school was the parents' attitude and commitment to the child's education, their interest in the school, their backing for the school in the eyes of the child, their insistence that homework mattered and their interest in all the child's school activities. It seems that all over the world the biggest influence of all on a child's performance is the home. One often wonders whether parents appreciate enough how much their backing of their child's schooling matters. Do schools make the point sufficiently clearly to parents? Do schools give them genuine opportunities to play their proper part?
Likewise, anyone who is involved with young people who come before the courts knows how close the link is between what is happening at home and a young person's behaviour away from home. So often, the beginning of a young person's trouble with the law turns out to have coincided almost to the day with the son or daughter realising that his or her mother was very ill with cancer, or when the father went to prison, or when a parent died, or when the parents' marriage split up. Do parents appreciate the effect that their misfortune and their behaviour may have on their child? Do they realise that there is much that they can do to lessen a child's anxiety and pain?
How much children's health is affected by their home upbringing is obvious. It is not just a question of the quality of the food that they eat or of the amount of sleep that they get, but of the general atmosphere of family life. There is a big increase, for example, in childhood asthma and in related chest and skin problems at present. Asthma is often linked to anxiety and nervous tension. Do parents realise that? Do they know what they can do about it?
This Government aim to work towards a framework within which there is more opportunity for everybody from every walk of life. That must, above all, mean opportunities for every child. Surely part of the strategy must be to provide an opportunity for parents, and for young people who will in future be parents, to learn about and understand their role, particularly during the first four years of a child's life when so much of a person's personality and potential is determined.
Perhaps I may suggest one or two ways in which the Government could move forward with this. It seems to me that there needs to be more concise and clear information for parents about the help that they can seek. A variety of publications is available to them—although it is only a limited variety. A good example is a leaflet that has been produced by the National Consumer Council, together with the Scottish Child and Family Alliance (SCAFA) and the 473 Voluntary Organisations Liaison Council for Under Fives, entitled Choosing Childcare. It sets out very simply the various options that parents have in seeking help with their under-fives and the various pros and cons. Perhaps the Government will consider holding a meeting with the voluntary organisations which work with young people to put the problem to them and to discover whether they could in some way combine to produce literature for parents, and for young people who will become parents, to inform them about the help that is available.
The Government could seek an extension of the approach to parents that is taken by the Pre-School Playgroups Association. Its trained playgroup leaders give very strong encouragement to the parents of under-fives. Some insist that parents who are able to do so become involved in running the groups. The playgroup associations are as much an education for parents as for children, and it works extremely well. The Government have endorsed this work recently by nearly doubling the association's grant for training leaders and for tutors.
I wonder whether we should try to persuade nursery schools to take a leaf out of the playgroup book. Nursery schools involve some parents, but should not far more be involved—and be involved more deeply—with the deliberate aim of helping the parents to learn, as well as the children? Just inviting parents to special events or seeing them as escorts or, in some cases, as chauffeurs for their children fails the parents and thus fails the children. Should not all nursery schools widen their aims by deliberately offering hands-on learning opportunities for parents?
For some time the Open University has been designing and producing packages on which local community educators can base courses for parents on the subject of how to bring up small children. These courses have been taken up by a number of local authorities and, I believe, by some churches. They are a great success. It is an eye-opening experience to present certificates—as I have done in Glasgow—to parents who have completed such a course and to discover how thrilled several hundred parents can be—a number of them Moslem women—with the knowledge that they have gained, and to discover how many hope to continue with further courses. This kind of work could well be extended. The Government could give encouragement in some form to universities, colleges and local authorities on this matter.
My last point, which has been touched on by other noble Lords, is that I wonder whether colleges and the upper end of schools should not be doing far more about teaching young people and existing parents about the skills of parenthood. Young people need to know just what they are taking on when they decide to have children. They need to know the implications of the relevant up-to-date statistics. They need to know that, according to the 1989 household survey, if they live together before marriage—as is so often the habit nowadays—they are increasing by some 60 per cent. the chance that their marriage will break up within 15 years compared with couples who have not lived 474 together before marriage. Young people need to know that. They make their own choices, but they need to know such things when making their choice.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, couples need to know something of the difference that the break-up of a marriage makes for children and how the children's problems can be alleviated. Are the Government confident, I wonder, that schools and colleges are dealing with this problem adequately?
In this country, and particularly in Parliament, we must not let ourselves off the hook by telling ourselves that the upbringing of children is the parents' private affair and that therefore it is not for us. Home upbringing is a large part of children's future. We owe it to them to do everything we can to help parents and future parents understand and develop the skills they need. I hope that we are doing enough. I am not quite sure.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, we live in an age when 25 per cent. of youth are from one-parent families and crime, lack of respect for others and sadistic violence are endemic. Something has gone very wrong not just in this country but all over the world. It must go back to conditions of upbringing when young.
Many families grow up in great deprivation and poverty, and no more so than the unemployed single parent families. These mothers are in a trap, for, even if they have a skill to sell, they have to stay with their young, and certainly cannot afford the cost of putting their young into a creche each day. Action could he taken—and is urgently needed —to help them by the provision of free crèches and nursery care so that a young mother can get training, a job, earn a wage and get herself off benefit.
Control of diet and budget is often very poor with single young mothers. These leads to health and financial problems, in an ever descending spiral of despair. They reach for the fast foods and tinned vegetables, paying high prices out of a small income for non-fresh foods. One youngster was amazed to see peas coming out of a pod. Smoking is an obvious example of money being ill spent. One young girl recently admitted in court that she spent half her benefit on cigarettes.
I have no doubt that voluntary bodies give a lot of help in these areas. But many children grow up in families which are relatively affluent and which feel that their children should not have to suffer the lack of things that the fond parents wanted in vain in their young days. So the children are given lots of pocket money—in fact too much pocket money. They are even given small motorcycles and all that money can buy. How nice for them. But they surely must grow up with expectations far above their attainment, and are most likely to price themselves out of the job market when they are older. Further, with money to spend and bored from over indulgence, they are sitting ducks for the drug pusher.
I cannot see that any youngster has a hope of growing up with any semblance of manners, ethics or gentle behaviour, after seeing what they see on television. It is an enormous tribute to the parents and 475 schools that so many in fact manage to do so. During the early evening children are subjected to bad language and uncouth behaviour by their heroes, while the really nasty programmes are kept for later at night. But in reality, many children stay up far into the night and watch all those programmes that are utterly unsuitable for teenagers and grown-ups, let alone children.
At a mature age these programmes may do no harm, but I dread to think what some of them must do to weak and impressionable young minds. I say "weak" because many minds are not weak and can cope without being seriously damaged. But it is the weak minds that are persuaded to drift off into anti-social behaviour. There are plenty of examples where copycat crimes have been committed after seeing them on television.
Swearing is now commonplace on television. Young children now swear at an early age, with "fs" and "bs", and sexual swearing is creeping in as a result of what they have heard on television. Television companies claim that advertising "Snibbo" makes people buy "Snibbo". Then they claim that advertising sex and sadism does not promote sex and sadism. If we excite young and not so young people's minds with sex, what do we think they will want to go and do? Will they want to go and play dominoes? Surely the hyping up sexually of people must contribute to a lowering of standards and increase under-age pregnancy. Girls are now having sex at a very early age—down to 13 or less in some awful cases. They are probably daughters of very young mothers themselves. There is pressure by boys that goes back to Adam to invite girls to drop their resistance. But it seems now that far more girls fall for those old lines. This contributes to the 25 per cent. illegitimacy rate and the consequent continuation of deprived families. This is because the moral values of old have been devalued by incessant undermining in the media.
School has an important role in the upbringing of children but it cannot do anything without the full support of the parents. It must be a joint effort by parents, teachers and, later in their lives, by apprenticeship and the foreman. Many schools respond to supposedly modern demands and have inadequate discipline, rules and standards. When the child is disciplined, the parents are liable to charge in and attack the teacher. But in many schools now there is a set of rules and good discipline and the parents are told that if they do not wish their children to be subject to those rules they should take them elsewhere. These schools tend to have far better results and their entry lists are over-subscribed. These schools cover all catchment areas and are not confined to the better areas.
Schools play a great part in upbringing. They can and do pick up those children with problems in their parental homes which can be traumatic. They also prepare, influence and point the children towards their futures. I remember visiting a school in Malawi some years ago. I saw written on the wall in large letters a famous quotation:Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".476 I think it would be no bad thing if that were writ large in every school in this country.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I join other noble Lords is thanking the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for raising this subject for debate. We are all deeply concerned about what is happening to children and adolescents in our society, especially those of us who are, like myself, very deeply involved in work on the incidence of poverty. I am involved in Church Action on Poverty and the important work that it is doing. I especially welcome the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I welcome his return to my life after a long absence. We were at theological college together.
We have heard from a number of able speakers. I suspect that we have missed one or two because noble Lords have not been able to be present. My noble friend Lord Thurso very much hoped to stay but, faced with competing claims between speaking in the House on this important subject and raising money for the Boy's Brigade, has opted for action rather than words. He asked me to say how much he appreciated the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, about core funding. He asked me to raise, which I can only do en passant, a question which has hardly been touched on. I refer to the care and back-up that we need to give to the carers—those who bear the emotional stress of looking after those who themselves need care.
It is particularly welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, introduced the topic of the help given by voluntary bodies. I intend to devote my short contribution to the work of one of those bodies; namely, the Family Service Units. This organisation has been about for a long time and has, in a rather old-fashioned and quiet way, helped families at their own level. It has worked with individual families to help them to deal with problems on their own terms. It has carried out some valuable research work and has just published a series of reports on life on income support. Some of the individual case histories are most informative. One which I picked out from among those that I have was the case of a client who had very bad experiences dealing with bureaucracy.
I pay warm tribute to the work of the statutory social services. But there is undoubtedly an edge which voluntary bodies can have over them when dealing with individual families. There is enough misery in poverty without being bullied. That, I am afraid, sometimes tends to happen. The particular client to whom I refer recalled that those at the FSU listened and encouraged the client to start thinking about what she could do to make her own life more endurable. They encouraged her to take the occasional evening out, and even enabled her to do so, knowing that relief of the pressures on the client can improve the life of the whole family. There is enough misery in poverty without adding voluntary martyrdom or working oneself into a state of self-condemnation for any pleasure one may take.
The client also said that the Family Service Unit listened. She said that they did not put you down or 477 say, "OK, I'm here and I'm in charge. If you didn't need help you wouldn't come to us. So this is the help we are going to give you. Take it or leave it". In other words, those concerned at the FSU worked with individuals as individuals with their own particular problems and weaknesses.
If we want to have a healthy society in this country in 50 years' time, we must find ways of breaking the cycle of deprivation to which the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, so rightly drew our attention as long ago as 1972. This is not something that the Government can do on their own; it needs the help of that section of society which is inspired by humanitarian and Christian care for individuals and families. It is in individual families that the chain can be broken and the tide turned. It cannot be broken in any other way.
But money is needed. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was quite right to underline that point. Money is needed from society as a whole to help the bodies that are carrying out such work and to provide the infrastructure which will help them. An adequate basic income for all citizens is, quite frankly, the first sine qua non for rearing healthy families and securing responsible society. It is as important that a parent has some freedom as that he or she has a sense of responsibility. They need both freedom and a sense of responsibility. If he or she is going to be able to pay for a child to go on school outings rather than the child not being able to go because the family cannot afford it, or is to be able to provide, say, a cake for a small party—which is the kind of thing that many families cannot now do —there must be a higher level of support than there is at the moment.
Other needs are playschemes, drop-in centres for isolated parents and family centres offering help with parenting schemes. Only this morning my daughter told me that in her area of Surrey there is a bus which travels around the area carrying people who can help with parenting schemes and who are available to be consulted and to offer the kind of information and support that are needed. That all costs money from local or central government. There is much that the Government can do; indeed, there is a lot that they must do if bodies such as the FSU, which is doing the job that the Government and all of us want done, are to operate even more effectively than they do now.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I too should like to extend my warmest congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his very constructive and helpful maiden speech. I hope that he will be able to spare time from his episcopal duties to join us and participate in debates on many occasions in the future. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Joseph for introducing this very worthwhile and helpful debate. I must apologise to him as I fear I may not be able to wait to hear his speech at the end of the debate due to prior commitments.
Parental responsibility is very much a guiding principle of the Children Act, and that is the line that 478 I should like to take today. I do not have the specialist experience of, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, of specific voluntary organisations, although I shall make some general comments about the work of the voluntary sector. I only wish that the pearls of wisdom that your Lordships are dropping on the subject could he read by all parents in this country. That would be very beneficial.
It is certainly true that the problems of children growing up may be affected by poverty in families, but, as several noble Lords have said, they are not necessarily caused by poverty. However, I should like to make the point that in my experience there is as great a danger from wealthy parents spending their time enjoying themselves or increasing their wealth and thereby neglecting their children as for poor families which suffer from the pressures that undoubtedly afflict those near the poverty line.
To recapitulate a number of points that have been made, and following the line of the first half of the Motion, I should like from my experience to emphasise some aspects that I believe are vital for parents in bringing up their children. The first aspect that I should like to emphasise is security. I believe that a child finds his or her security primarily in the parents' love and acceptance of the child as an individual. Love and acceptance from the parents are much more important than the size of the house or the status of the school. Parents need continually to affirm the value of the individual child and to give that child love and praise. In that way I believe that a child can feel secure. Parents who continually tell their children that whatever they do is not good enough do not help to create a stable and secure framework.
The next point is the need for parents to spend time with their children. That is much more important than money and lavish presents, which often seem to be a substitute for spending time with children. Parents need to spend time doing various things and practising hobbies with their children. But such efforts may be thwarted. For example, I intended to spend the greater part of this Monday with my son at the test match, but those wretched cricketers decided to finish after four days. I was thus deprived of spending a day with my son watching cricket, but I brought him to lunch in your Lordships' House as a very weak second string.
I was having dinner in your Lordships' House with a couple last night. The man was going off on a cricket tour just to spend time with his son who is playing cricket on that tour. Those are the things we need to be doing with our children in order to create responsible and stable citizens of the future. We need to listen to them, encourage them, attend school functions and spend time with them.
A third point I should like to raise, which I have not yet heard mentioned, is the need for parents to discuss with them the pressures that the children face. I am conscious of the problems our children face with regard to the clothes that they wear, as well as the activities that they indulge in with their peer group —with the "in" crowd. Parents need to be in there discussing this with our children. We need to do this to foresee future difficulties and show our children that we are their friends and they can talk to us about 479 anything. I should perhaps mention that I have only four children, unlike my noble friend Lady Faithfull, with her 300. Therefore it is very much easier for me than it is for some other parents.
My final point is an obvious one—the need for parents to set the behaviour guidelines, or, if you like, to strengthen the discipline for children. From my experience, I see our children needing to know exactly where they stand on what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. While our children are very different, they have all tried to push against the boundaries to find out how far my wife and I will let them go in the discipline field. They need to know what they can and cannot do and also what sanctions will be administered if they break the boundaries. I shall not go into the question of physical discipline, but sanctions need to be realised and the boundaries set and kept to by parents. Bad disciplining needs help for the parents. But it should not mean that disciplining is to be abolished. I believe that this will all help to strengthen committed and compassionate relationships in the family.
I come next to the help for parents which I believe is often needed, particularly in one-parent families. If I did not have a wife and had to bring up children, I know how much help I would need, whether from the voluntary or the statutory sector. The community as a whole should have an active concern for the welfare of each family in its area and should help parents to exercise their responsibility, but that the statutory or voluntary sector should not undermine the responsibility of parents but should help them.
I should like to see the societies that we have been talking about this afternoon getting in there to help the parents on a one-to-one level when they become aware of needs. Ideally they should be able to help prevent problems before they arrive but when problems have already arrived they should be ready to help the parents and support them in solving those problems.
As I see the voluntary sector today, I am pleased that it is becoming more and more professional in the way that it acts. That does not mean that it is becoming less personal, but more professional in the way that it operates. Where there are still many charities that are not professional, I hope that they will strengthen the professionalism with which they are doing this work.
I also believe that parents should carry the responsibility for children's offences within the judicial process. I am pleased at the thought of parents having compulsorily to attend court when 10 to 15 year-olds are themselves in court.
Finally, a word on the problems that arise in the event of divorce or separation of parents—a problem that is undoubtedly increasingly common. I am very glad that it is the principle that both parents should continue to have access and have as much relationship time with the children as possible. There are obviously enormous problems. I was told only yesterday of a divorce in progress where the husband lives in this country and the wife is going off with another man 480 who is a South African and wants to take the children to South Africa. That creates an impossible dilemma that needs to be sorted out in each individual case.
I also believe that there should be much wider access for other members of the family in the event of divorce. I know that nowadays we tend to be split up in nuclear families, but there should always be an exploration of the possibility of other members of either the husband's or the wife's family being able to have substantial access and responsibility for the children. This can provide stability of relationships which are being badly undermined by the failure of the child's parents' marriage and can itself offer some measure of security in a situation which has totally dissolved. Where parents fail, the voluntary sector should be encouraged to offer all the help that it can to the parents and, through them, to the child so as to provide the security, the time, the discussion and the discipline that are needed to help build up stable and responsible citizens for the future.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I should like to add my warm congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his splendid speech and his encouraging references to the part that the Church is playing in meeting the problems we are talking about today. I am also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Joseph for introducing this debate, for there can be no more important subject than bringing up children. Ideally, as other speakers have said, it is based on love and care in a stable, secure family, plus skilled and dedicated teachers at school. In both home and school too it needs a way of life which engenders trust and sets high standards, by example, for children to follow.
But, alas, too many children do not enjoy such benefits. They grow up with serious problems—lacking confidence and purpose and with little hope of a full and satisfying life. In such cases voluntary work can make an immensely valuable contribution, whether by individuals or by charitable organisations, not least because such organisations are more flexible and quicker to act in meeting the needs of individuals.
Fifty or more years ago there was much voluntary work done in caring for poor and disadvantaged people; indeed, at that time it was almost the only source of support and many families and children benefited greatly. Although there is more to life than money and possessions, as others have said, grinding poverty and hunger make a bad basis for good parenthood. Welfare state payments and support have an essential part to play, but in no way should voluntary work be derided as patronising and degrading as it used to be—and still is on occasion, I am afraid—by the party of noble Lords opposite with that cry of "Welfare by right and not by charity". Perhaps in the past there was a bit of that about in regard to charitable work and perhaps the motivation for it was sometimes somewhat suspect; perhaps there was a bit too much of "My Lady Bountiful". But much dedicated, valuable and caring work was done which was not always fully valued.
481 I remember so well my mother working in a voluntary capacity in the Westminster Hospital. When the day came for the National Health Service to be introduced she was told that her services were no longer required because there was no place for voluntary work. Indeed, when the welfare state came in, as it did with so much value and so much good to be done—which was done—bureaucracy multiplied and much voluntary effort was derided. In schools self-expression became the cry and discipline went out of the window. But now, thank Heavens, the wheel is turning full circle: teachers want to restore discipline, but, sadly, they often receive little help from misguided parents.
The organisation Schools Outreach was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Joseph and Lord Elton, and so I shall say no more about it except that it is a tragedy that that organisation, which has existed now for 15 years or more and which has shown its worth by helping children to live a full life and overcome their problems and by helping teachers by going into the schools at their invitation, has been unable to obtain any appreciable support from Her Majesty's Government. I hope that that policy will change. It is a fine organisation.
The Government seek to improve schools through the participation and support of parents. Many are willing to help, but they are unsure as to how they can best do so. In education and many other fields affecting young people the Government are looking to voluntary organisations and the private sector to take over much of the work done by the rather more bureaucratic and slow-acting public sector, because they believe, rightly, that the voluntary organisations provide better value for money.
Although much excellent voluntary effort is provided free by individuals, money, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull has already made clear, is still needed to provide the essential infrastructure for charities: buildings, communications, travel and research. That raises two problems. More care and thought are needed before the Government transfer responsibility for such work to voluntary charitable organisations, otherwise damaging vacuums will be opened up, as we have seen in other spheres.
Secondly, although in general charities are more cost-effective and more flexible than the public sector, their greater responsibilities can be discharged only if they have more money than they have usually had in the past to do less work.
Great progress has been made under Conservative Governments over the past 10 or 15 years in encouraging and facilitating charitable giving; but it is still inadequate to meet the needs of the great many voluntary organisations. I was rather surprised to hear my noble friend Lady Faithfull say that charitable giving was increasing because I understand that there has been an overall decline in the average percentage of personal incomes devoted to charity. It has decreased from about 0.75 per cent. to 0.6 per cent. over the past 10 years or so. That compares badly with the United States, where the figure is nearer 2 per cent. That is on the individual side. Similar considerations 482 apply to large public companies in the United Kingdom. The figure is about 0.5 per cent. of the companies' gross profits. In the USA the figure is over 2 per cent.
As a chairman of one or two public companies I never received complaints at annual general meetings about money given to charities. There were complaints that we give money to this, that or no political party, but never any complaint or criticism about the money given to charities. Equally, when trying to raise money for charities, I have received hundreds of letters from company chairmen declining to contribute to appeals on the ground that they did not think it right to give away shareholders' money. It costs a great deal less to collect £10,000 from 10 companies than to collect £10 from 1,000 people. There is real value to be obtained from corporate giving for charitable purposes.
It would be good if we were to introduce a code of practice for companies which would require that at annual general meetings a positive resolution should be put to shareholders by the directors detailing the amount of money that they propose to spend on charitable donations in the ensuing year. That would prevent any shareholders saying that money was being given away for purposes of which they did not approve.
The Government too could help further at a moderate cost. As my noble friend Lady Faithfull made clear, the provision of core funding is important. It would be of immense value to charities if that could be done on a three-year rolling basis. That would give a sound base for future planning so that the charities would know that the careers of their staff were safeguarded for a reasonable period ahead. They could then concentrate much more effort and time on doing the real job of the charity and on raising money for operational purposes.
Secondly, I should like to see the Government offer, far more often, contributions to selected, well-run charities on a pound-for-pound basis to stimulate private donations. There are good precedents for that. I used to be a trustee of the Prince's Youth Business Trust which was set up to provide small sums of money to help unemployed and disadvantaged people start their own businesses. There the Government undertook to provide, pound for pound, up to a sum of some £40 million. That made a tremendous difference. The same amount of money was raised through private donations, which would never have been achieved if that assurance had not been given.
Thirdly, I should like to see the Government encourage local authorities to co-operate much more closely with charities, especially in the planning of their future work programmes so that the charities can see from where support is coming and where they can best concentrate their efforts and use their always limited resources. There is also great scope for government support of voluntary organisations providing the sporting and other outside activities which are so essential for the development and health of older children.
I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Elton on the debt we owe to our parents and their generation 483 for the way they passed on to us the Christian faith and how much the present younger generation would benefit if we could do the same as effectively. The speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry gives us hope that the darkest hour may be passed and that we may be on the up gradient in restoring the Christian faith to its true position in this country. That would be of enormous benefit to the younger generation and help solve the problems we have been discussing.
To help parents to bring up children healthy in mind and body is fundamental to the future happiness and stability of the community. We can obtain better value for money through the effective contributions of voluntary organisations, but let the emphasis be on greater value and not on saving money, for that is by far the best investment we can make to ensure the future happiness of this country.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Joseph for bringing up this important subject and for telling us of the many voluntary bodies which can help parents in what is an increasingly difficult world; but I am sorry that he omitted that most important voluntary body of all, the grandparents. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, emphasised the importance of child benefit. I was interested in her figures of the average cost of bringing up a child. If we had had no children, we might have been £250,000 better off, and my noble friend Lady Faithful' would have been a multimillionaire.
Perhaps I may also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his most constructive and sensible maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear him often. I should also like to welcome back the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who was in her place a moment ago, and to say how glad we all were to see her.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, it is interesting that the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys should have discovered that couples who have cohabited before marriage are 60 per cent. more likely to separate or divorce than those who have not. It is interesting, but not surprising, for marriage is a total commitment. It can be the best possible relationship; it can also be the worst. It is like two horses pulling a carriage—they must both work together; if one stops then the carriage does not move.
Other societies where men are in short supply have favoured polygamy or, when women are, polyandry. But since the days of Adam and Eve the best proved and tried way of bringing up a family has been with a father and mother committed to each other. It does not always work, but then human nature is like that. Even Adam and Eve had less success with Cain than with Abel and Seth.
A child is a gift from God, something special. A child is also part of the future of the world. All parents feel this and want their children to have what is best in the world. Material things are important—all 484 children need to be warm and well fed so that they can grow physically into strong, healthy adults. They need the best possible education so that their brains can keep pace with their bodies and they can earn the best possible living for themselves. But when all is said and done, what children need most to take them into the future is a secure background of love and knowledge of their country's past and of their own family history: who Uncle Bertie was and what Grandpa did in the war. When my husband and I visited my brother's grave at Uden in Holland last March, we found a touching message in the visitors' book:Remembering with love a great uncle whom I never knew".That young man was born 30 years after his great uncle had been killed, but the loving family memories were part of his background.
Commitment to children and to parents does not cease when the children have grown up any more than does love after death. For our ruby wedding, some of our grown-up children flew back from Australia and America. One travelled across France with a car-load of babies. Last night my son went to congratulate two friends who had just become espoused and to take an after-dinner cup of coffee with their hostess. He arrived on his motor bike, dressed appropriately, at 11 p.m. at the house of his hostess's noble father, unaware that she had moved into a flat of her own. Her noble father took one look at my son in his motor-bike kit and telephoned his daughter to see whether she would really be pleased to see him before disclosing the address. He was still a caring parent.
When our children were small someone once asked me what was important in bringing them up. I said, "Love is the most important thing". One of the children overheard and remarked crossly, "What Mum means by 'love' is not letting you do things and saying no and going on". I said, "So it is. If I did not love you, I wouldn't bother. I would let you grow up to be a horrid pig".
Chapter 13 of I Corinthians, which your Lordships will know by heart, says it all. Perhaps the Christmas carol about what to give the infant Jesus tells us also much about what to give our children:What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would give a lamb; If I were a wise man I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him— Give my heart".
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate and grateful to my noble friend Lord Joseph for making it possible. I also wish to join others who have taken part in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his excellent maiden speech. As someone who has known him for over 20 years and has been involved with him in a charity over that period, I can only say that the concern which he expressed today for those in need and his vision of a renewed Church and what it can do for our nation are characteristic of his whole life and ministry. They have 485 been an example to us all. Like my noble friend Lord Brentford, I look forward to many more speeches by the right reverend Prelate in this House.
I am delighted to take part in this debate because I believe that the subject is very important. I first began to realise its significance while working as an adviser to the previous Prime Minister. By profession I was an economist —an occupation not known for its obvious concern for humanity. My responsibilities in the policy unit covered the whole of domestic policy. I discovered in one area after another where there was genuine concern by the Prime Minister—in areas such as juvenile delinquency, truancy, football hooliganism, homelessness among young people, teenage pregnancies, drugs and so on—one factor which contributed to the problems was a breakdown in relationships between children and their parents.
I discovered that the cause was not simple, and nor was the relationship between cause and effect straightforward. But the more I talked to those involved (teachers, social workers, probation officers and people employed in helping the voluntary sector) the more I discovered that when physical and emotional contact between parents and children had broken down, often the children developed a low self-esteem. They found it difficult to make relationships involving trust, they had a problem with authority and they felt angry with the world.
The result was that they turned either to behaviour which was self-destructive, such as taking drugs, or to behaviour that was destructive of others, such as being violent. The conclusion which I reached was that family policy was important and anything we as a society could do to strengthen relationships within the family to prevent such developments should be encouraged.
More recently, in connection with my involvement with the School Examinations and Assessment Council, the importance of parenting has struck me forcefully in the debate over reading. Regardless, for the present, of how reading should be taught in our schools, one factor which clearly affects a child's reading attainment is the influence of the home.
Perhaps I may quote evidence referred to in the recent National Foundation for Education Research study called Reading in Recession. It mentions the National Child Development Study dealing with seven year-old children who were born in 1958. The study found that when the child was young, factors such as whether it was living with both parents, the degree of parental interest in the child's educational progress and the pattern of employment, including unemployment or whether the mother worked, were significant in affecting the child's attainment in reading.
A study in the early 1980s of nursery schools which contrasted the use of language between children at home in conversation with their mothers and children at school in conversation with their teachers concluded:the home provided a more fertile environment for language learning than schools".486 A subsequent study in the late 1980s of children in Bristol concluded:As with other researchers who have compared the language experiences of younger children at home and in the nursery or pre-school play-group, what we have found is that compared with homes schools are not providing an environment which fosters language development".We all know of solid research which shows a strong relationship between children's knowledge of literacy at the age of five and their subsequent development.
All this suggests to me the importance of good parenting to educational achievement. I am a strong believer in the value of introducing the national curriculum and its assessment regularly through tests and examinations. I believe that the research evidence I have just referred to shows that children will still fail to realise their full potential if their parents are not involved. Children learn when they believe they can learn. Learning depends on self-esteem and self-esteem for children is something which grows with good parenting.
Of course no parents are perfect. Many of us know our faults as parents only too well. Some of us are artful dodgers when it comes to time. But to strive towards the ideal of both parents being accessible to the child so that the child develops as a person within relationships of trust and love—the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, just reminded us of that—and on a continuous basis must surely be something which all of us in your Lordships' House would wish to encourage.
The role of parents as educators is not confined to reading. Parents pass on values and they help their children form a view of the world and of themselves. Families are cradles of civic responsibility and therefore are fundamental to the nature of our society and to the future of our society. Yet regrettably there are many factors in modern life which tend to undermine parenting or else make it more difficult. For example, rising divorce rates make continuous contact between a child and both parents that much more difficult. The trend towards both parents working outside the home means less time for building relationships within the family. My noble friend Lord Brentford reminded us of that. Television and videos are such a temptation for us as parents to use to get a quiet life. I remember that from when my children were much younger. Once again the use of television and videos means less time for building relationships within the family. I am afraid that, however unfashionable it is to make my next point, I must say that the status of mothering is something which I personally feel has been undermined by the feminist movement.
If therefore there is one result of all of these trends it is that they reduce the time available within the family for parents and children to build relationships. Earlier in this debate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, made some interesting points about the financial concerns of families. I did not think her points were central to this debate but I should like to return to them on some future occasion.
Although I put great emphasis on values and on time within the family, I do not wish to underestimate in any way the severe adverse impact which sudden 487 unemployment or a sudden rise in interest rates could have in terms of the strains such matters put on a family. However, I do not wish to make economic and financial factors dominant because the problems we now have within our families in this country have been growing over a period of 20 to 30 years, during which time prosperity has also grown. As has been said, problems in families apply right across the income range. They apply just as much to high income families as to low income families. I hope we can return to that subject later.
The second part of this Motion seeks to emphasise what is being done by voluntary societies. I believe that voluntary societies have three important strengths. First, they are in a position to emphasise people above programmes. So often in this area what parents really need is personal support and a personal relationship with someone outside the family rather than being introduced to a new programme into which they have to fit. Secondly, voluntary societies tend to be more flexible than government as they are not as bureaucratic and they can respond to changing needs more quickly. Thirdly, voluntary societies tend to tap directly into the great roots of good will and "volunteerism" which exist in our society and which are a part of our tradition that is still strong.
I have seen the benefits of those strengths of voluntary organisations at first hand as I have been involved with a charity called Cities in Schools. That charity has been set up to deal with the problem of truancy. As many truants come from a situation where family relationships are breaking down, that organisation has sought to create a surrogate structure for the family. I first came across the organisation while visiting inner city schools in Atlanta in the United States of America. The school I visited was situated on the sixth floor of a department store called Rich's which is the main department store in the city.
The school has I20 pupils, all of whom have been involved in crime and drugs. The pupils write essays and study mathematics. I asked individual children, groups of children and classes of children the same question. I asked them what the difference was between the school in the department store and the schools they had left. They all gave exactly the same response. They said the difference was that in the school they now attended the teachers really cared for them. The feeling that someone cares is an absolutely fundamental concept and it is at the heart of what good parenting is about.
In this country there are great services and societies in the voluntary sector but I wish we could have more new initiatives. Like my noble friend Lord Joseph, I hanker after the prospect of small amounts of government money being given to new initiatives such as the one in America. Perhaps the budgets of our departments of state should have a few more funds to start new initiatives. I talk about a small amount of money as I fear that if too much money were made available we would unfortunately change the nature of the voluntary sector. That sector would become more like an arm of government and it would lose its distinctive strengths.
488 In conclusion I emphasise how strongly I support this Motion. The children of today will be the parents of tomorrow. Parenting is not getting easier. If the children of today are deprived, as Mia Kellner would have said, of love and security, praise and recognition, responsibility and new experiences, we as a society will reap a bitter harvest. However I do not believe we shall do so. The family is an amazingly resilient institution but it needs our support. I believe that all of us in your Lordships' House should do everything in our power to encourage parents, the voluntary sector and government to provide the funding I have referred to and, more than anything else, to raise the status of being a parent in our society.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, that is a difficult act to follow. I congratulate the noble Lord on a brilliant speech. I also wish to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for the fact that I was not in my place when he made his opening remarks. I had a longstanding engagement to chair a befriending group which is perhaps relevant to what we are discussing today.
This is an important subject for two reasons: first because inadequate parenting causes suffering to children and, secondly, because it is extremely damaging to the citizens and parents of the next generation. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, to the cycle of deprivation and the cycle of bad parenting which arises from the fact that one cannot learn to be a good parent unless one is taught by someone. In our society parenting has traditionally been taught at the mother's knee.
I have tried to write down the qualities of good parenting. I have noted love and security, and then I noted time in quite large letters. Unfortunately, my thunder has been stolen by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, who emphasised the importance of time. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said in your Lordships' House a few days ago that it was very important for children to be careful in choosing their parents. It occurred to me that if I was being born today I might put in a bid for the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, referred to the problems of children who do not have satisfactory families and particularly to the fact that they develop a low level of self-esteem, which in turn leads to disruptive behaviour and poor performance at school. They become alienated and disillusioned. That is a subject on which I have spoken previously in your Lordships' House. At the root of the problem is the fact that there is no love, no security and not enough time—and unfortunately the lack of time is a characteristic particularly of single parent families and of those where both parents go out to work. Those, together with poor role models and lack of guidance, are the factors which lead to the problems of young people who are not properly parented.
The question arises, is help possible? The answer is, yes, as many noble Lords have said today. In extreme cases there is adoption, there is fostering and there are children's homes. Considerable mention has been 489 made of befriending and of outreach. The Schools Outreach movement has been referred to and I should like to say that I support that movement. I like to think of the idea as family outreach. It seems to me that outreach ought to be schools based, but reaching out to the family.
Under the Children Act local authorities are responsible in large measure for looking after children who are being inadequately parented and for children in need. I ask myself what is going wrong. According to the most recent figures that I have, in the inner city boroughs of London more than 300 children on the at risk register have not been allocated a social worker. The local authority will tell you that that is because the Government do not give them enough money. The Government will say that it is because the local authority is so inefficient that it is wasting money. I speak for the children. The children are suffering. We are grown ups and we ought to be able to sort the problem out and ensure that the children get the money to which they are entitled under the relevant legislation.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness—and I hope that she will answer in due course—what happened to the London Care Committee. I remember that when we were a young married couple my wife used to be attached to the social services and to a school. She used to go as a care committee worker to the school medicals. The doctor would pick out those children who had a problem. Mrs. James would be sent to call on the relevant parent. The drill was that one knocked on the door and said, "Mrs. So-and-so, I believe you may be entitled to free school meals". She would say, "Oh, come in and have a cup of tea". In that way one got into the house, had a look round and found out what the problem was.
As often as not it was something quite simple: little Johnny had missed five visits to the dentist because there were three other children who were younger than him and his mother did not have time to take him. In that case the care committee worker would put little Johnny into the car and take him down to the dentist. If, on the other hand, it was something more serious the matter would be referred back to the social services. Why can we not use volunteers within the social services in that way today?
Prevention is better than cure. I believe that many local authorities are simply fire fighting. They tackle problems as they come up but they are not able to get on top of the job. I look at the cost of curing rather than of preventing the problem. I was told the other day that to keep a seriously disturbed child in an institution, home or enclosed school for 365 days a year costs £55,000 if the child is likely to damage itself. To keep a child in an ordinary home for disturbed children, such as the excellent Caldecote Community Home in Kent, costs £36,000 a year. If one multiplies that by eight years it comes to a very great deal of money indeed—more than a quarter of a million pounds. That would pay for a great deal of outreach.
I believe that crèches and play schools for the under-fives are a key area, not only because children whose parents are not giving them the love and care to 490 which they are entitled can be given love and care by committed adults but, almost more importantly, the problems of the families can be picked up and they can be given help.
I shall ask the noble Baroness some questions to which I hope she can give me an answer when she sums up at the end of the debate. Can she give some commitment that the Government will make a serious effort to end the ding-dong quarrel with local authorities so that children can receive the benefits to which they are entitled? Secondly, can serious consideration be given to the creation of crèches and clinics for the under-fives linked to family outreach so that family outreach workers can pick up cases where children are not being properly parented and work with the families if they are prepared to receive them. Can we also have support for outreach workers in primary schools with the same objective?
Finally, I come to an issue which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised, namely that of financing voluntary organisations. It is difficult to secure good staff, to provide a reasonable career structure and to justify training them when the funds which are available are often provided only on a one-year basis, and are sometimes not offered until after the beginning of the year to which they apply. There is a need for core funding for key staff of voluntary organisations.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Milverton
My Lords, there can be no doubt that the idea of what constitutes the structure of the family and the role of parents is being discussed very fully. That idea naturally recognises the fact of the one parent family.
It is important for parents to feel that they have an important role to play in the influencing and guiding of their children besides that of any other body or organisation. They would like to know that the state recognises their role and works in partnership with them rather than apart or separately from them. Naturally parents need to recognise their part and responsibility so that other bodies or organisations are able to work from the foundations laid by the parents, which surely is the most important aspect.
There is a partnership, with each having responsibility. The parents' part is a very important one and they cannot pass all responsibility on to others. One parent families are in many ways more vulnerable, with stress and strain of a different nature to that faced by two parent families. They need help in their situation just as much as two parent families. That help needs to be provided by responsible, reliable persons of integrity who listen as well as talk and do not take advantage of their position. I believe that the word "listen" is important, not only in terms of parents being willing to listen to their children but also in all areas of life. Parents who are ready to listen to their children reap great rewards. In particular when the children come to adulthood and leave home, they still wish to return on occasions to talk openly and frankly with their parents. As has been mentioned, the helpers must be able to help from a knowledge of life as well as of theory. It is no good simply thrusting 491 forward theory. In putting theory across there must be with it the knowledge gained from experience. There must be a balance of practice and theory to bring about a reasonable and sensible solution. That is true for voluntary organisations and for local authorities.
As well as the traditional concept of the family there are other outlooks on the family structure which may seem strange to some and need understanding. We must be honest and frank when trying to understand how other people see different family structures. The traditional family way has perhaps faltered to some degree. That may explain why, in the past few years, the traditional family concept has taken a knock, so to speak. However, I hope and believe that the traditional family way is not completely down; some young people believe that it will soon be on the up again.
As I said, perhaps the example of the traditional way has faltered to some degree. My wife and I—she teaches and knows how youngsters think—talk to young people and recognise the impact of the tragedy of divorce. It is perhaps greater than we realise. The young see the fighting over the children, separation and divorce and so on, and say, "No thank you". As a parish priest I come across the custom of people living together, although it often happens that a man and a woman will live together for a time but then decide to get married. Perhaps they live together because they fear a tragedy similar to what has happened in so many traditional marriages.
The qualities of the true parent are those necessary in life as a whole. If those qualities are shown in the parents, no doubt they will appear in the children throughout their life: it radiates from the family out to life, to school, to clubs, to institutions and to the different careers and professions to which those children will go. Parents who hold together in trust and love passed on to the children are an essential part of the structure of life. Values and standards mature with knowledge and understanding through members of a family listening to one another as well as talking. That is one of the greatest joys: families listening and talking to one another.
The house may he made of brick and stone, a woman, a man and children living in it as a family. But it is not just a place where young and old happen to sleep and live. It is a place where real communication takes place between the different ages. As I said, parents give by listening to the children as well as speaking firmly to them. In families where parents simply tell and do not listen, the results can be seen. Where there are no signs of parents being willing to listen the results are evident.
The vast depth of responsibility that parents carry in bringing up and caring for children cannot be underestimated. I am pleased to have heard the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I agree with him. It is heartening to note that there are signs of a return of the natural way of a family, if I may so describe it. It is the natural way that we have been given by God—the instincts of care, compassion and love given to one another. That is coming back: a man and a woman take the loving plunge to commit themselves to one another. I believe 492 that young people who see that want it. Basically, deep down in all young people, I believe that that is what they wish.
We are indebted to my noble friend Lord Joseph for introducing this subject. I hope that Her Majesty's Government, as I am sure they will, are able to find a way to further the hopes and ideals which have been expressed. There are parents who need help and encouragement. We thank God for those parents who bring up a family without any help. We are grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss the matter.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Viscount Cross
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for not having put down my name in good time on the list of speakers. Clearly, I was not very well brought up or I should have done better. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for initiating the debate.
Bringing up children is very important. It is of particular importance up to the age of about six, because how children are brought up affects them for the rest of their lives. Far be it from me to suggest how parents should bring up their children. But as the debate is on that subject I venture to offer a few thoughts which have proved efficacious in years gone by. Above all, treat children as though they were grown up; talk to them all the time in language that they can understand; and tell them all you know about everything. They will then be off to a flying start. Have some very strict rules but, without spoiling them, give them lots of treats and lots of affection. There is nothing that they will not do for you.
I recognise that my contribution to the debate has been an extremely small one. I shall say no more.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, we on this side of the House are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for introducing the debate on this subject. I begin by expressing my appreciation of the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate. There has been much emphasis in the debate on Christian values. I do not decry those. However, I am sure that noble Lords will also appreciate that there are other ethical and religious systems which provide a framework within which it is possible responsibly to bring up children. I see that the right reverend Prelate nods and appreciates that point.
Although not contained within the terms of the Motion, I believe that there is concern about an apparent growth of juvenile delinquency and juvenile crime. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made reference to that. There is certainly a belief that society is a much less safe place than it once was, and that if that state of affairs is to be remedied we have to try to ensure that a decent respect for what are regarded as civilised values is engendered early in life—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph.
We on this side of the House are also anxious to ensure that we live in a safer, kinder society. It is often poorer, older people who feel most threatened by 493 delinquency in the young, as anyone who has knowledge of the more rundown estates and poorer areas can testify. However, there is sometimes a tendency to put the responsibility for poor parenting almost entirely on the parents. Clearly, in an ideal world everyone would grow up in a loving and supportive family. But we have to take into account changes in perceptions. As has already been indicated, one in three marriages now ends in divorce; and there has been a growth in the number of single parent families, mostly headed by women.
In its recent report, the Social Security Advisory Committee states that in 1990–91 the number of single parent families claiming income support rose to 0.8 million, an increase of 4 per cent. over the previous year. Of those, over half were divorced or separated and over half had at least one child under five. Only about 23,000 lone parents were working between 16 to 24 hours a week.
The committee states that, while it supports the underlying principle of the Government's paper, Children Come First—that both parents should be responsible for the financial support of their children —the clear majority of the committee was concerned about those women who do not name the absent parent, in particular for fear of violence to themselves or to their children. The Social Security Advisory Committee is pleased, as we are, that the Government have extended the good cause provision for failing to name the absent parent from what was originally proposed. Nevertheless, some anxieties remain and the committee states that it will continue to take a keen interest in the way in which the proposals are implemented. So also should we.
The degree to which poverty and deprivation play a role in rendering successful parenting impossible has been emphasised frequently in the debate. I wish to stress it again. The Child Poverty Action Group, an active organisation in the voluntary sphere, recently produced an interesting report entitled Hardship Britain. What makes it exceptional among academic studies of deprivation is the fact that the Family Service Unit and Bradford University asked people on the receiving end about their experiences of the poverty culture.
There is no doubt that the restrictions associated with a lack of money can make people feel trapped. Choice is a factor that they cannot even consider. Many of the respondents in the survey spoke about their guilt feelings because they could not give their children what they thought they ought to have. They did not refer just to food and clothing but to entertainment and, for the younger children, toys. Many said that the worst thing about being "on the social" was "watching the children go without". Shortage of money had a special impact on the self esteem of parents. Often they regarded being a good parent as of overriding value. That was sometimes judged by how much they could give the child in material terms. It was intensely distressing when they could not afford to give the children what they believed they needed.
The report comments that it may be easy for better 494 off parents to dismiss the material side of parenting, but the claimants involved could not do so however much they wished to. Many mentioned the awful feeling of guilt about having to say no to children. They felt that they had failed in some way. Typical comments were, "I can't buy enough things. It makes me so desperate because I can't do anything about it". Many were like the lone parent who said, "I don't want my kids to suffer because I'm on the social. I feel awful when other kids' dads are working". Parents did not want their children to be singled out at school because they did not have decent clothes or could not afford school trips. In the survey some parents had got into debt trying to meet those needs and had become caught in a debt cycle. Pressures upon women were particularly strong since women were more likely than men to associate their own sense of self worth with how they provided for and brought up their children. Some mothers' self sacrifice in the quest to be "good mothers" while lacking material resources led them to submerge their own physical and mental needs.
Many lone parents in the survey, and in others which have been undertaken, indicated that they wished to work if employment could be found for them that enabled them to earn money to look after their children and at the same time to feel confident that the children were being properly cared for while they were at work. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone has said, the UK tends to lag behind other EC countries in that respect. Local authorities no longer appear to be in a position to provide facilities on the scale required, while workplace nurseries are still relatively uncommon. Charges for child care, where it exists, are frequently too high for those women trapped in low-paid work. There are signs that public and government attitudes to the provision of such facilities are changing but progress is still too slow.
I make these points in the debate because for the vast majority of even very poor people good parenting is perceived as an aim. They feel guilty if they are unable to provide it in accordance with the standards that they have set themselves. A good deal of the available evidence suggests that unemployment, in particular long-term unemployment, has a devastating effect upon general health and upon family relationships. The strains and tensions involved are sometimes responsible for an atmosphere in which growing children in particular feel rejected.
We have already debated in this House the Social Security Advisory Committee report to which I have made reference. Anxiety has been voiced at the paragraphs relating to 16 and 17 year-olds. There has been a disturbing increase in the number of very young people sleeping rough on our streets. The Government's social policy appears to be based on the belief that most young people, even up to the age of 25, can live at home with parents in a supportive family environment. We now know that that is by no means always the case. Indeed, in very poor families —some noble Lords have already referred to this—young people may actually be encouraged to leave, in particular in households where there has been a partnership change resulting in step parents. The 495 Social Security Advisory Committee made specific recommendations to try to deal with that situation. They include the suggestion of a review of current procedures for 16 and 17 year-olds claiming severe hardship. I very much hope that the Government will take those recommendations seriously and will act upon them.
I raise those issues in the context of the debate because, although it is clear that many voluntary organisations can and do assist to improve parenting, some of the problems which have arisen recently and which have attracted much publicity have occurred in areas and among families where there has been deprivation. Assistance can of course be given to lone parents and others facing difficulties—for example, through help with budgeting and with making social security claims. Counselling can be and is provided in regard to the care and upbringing of children. However, the social context in which that assistance is required cannot be ignored. On some "problem" housing estates, for example, the majority of the population of working age is "on the social". Facilities for children and for young people are poor or non-existent.
The causes of social deprivation have to be tackled. One of the main causes is surely the high level of unemployment, which engenders alienation, loss of self esteem, apathy and a general lack of hope. This is not an economic debate, but these issues are interwoven. In my view it is not possible to discuss good parenting or its absence without referring to them.
Of course, the causes of bad and anti-social behaviour are not to be found in social deprivation alone. Many would say that the highly individualistic social attitudes that have been encouraged during the past decade have played a part. The 1980s have been described as the "me first years". I believe that there may well have been a weakening of social cohesion as a result. Those are complex issues but they must be addressed if the needs of both parents and children are to be adequately safeguarded in the future.
Finally, I must respond to a comment that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. He said that Members of these Benches believed in welfare as of right and did not care much about voluntary organisations. I give no ground to anyone in support for voluntary organisations. I have long been a member of the council of the Save the Children Fund. But, yes, we on this side of the House believe in welfare as of right and we do not believe that there is any reason why we should apologise for that.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his excellent maiden speech. I enjoyed in particular the mini-biography given by my noble friend Lord Elton and now I know a little more about the right reverend Prelate. I also enjoyed the moving tribute made by my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach. I speak for the whole House in saying that we look forward to hearing a great deal more from the right reverend Prelate.
496 Excellent speeches have been made on all sides. The debate has been not only interesting but important. The subject is complex and could take a great deal more of our time. There is no way in which I can do it full justice. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Joseph for giving us the opportunity to debate the important issue. I believe that I speak for the whole House in saying that we recognise the contribution he has made to the concern for young people and the effectiveness of parenting generally.
The Government recognise the importance of the family and the effectiveness of parenting. What is good parenting? Consistent love and discipline, firm guidance in values and behaviour are essential elements. That provides the framework within which children develop. For all too many children that is not their experience. A wholesome family life and good parenting is one of the greatest challenges of our time.
The speech of my noble friend Lord Joseph was directed at the voluntary sector as much as to government. I wish to concentrate on that. We would welcome constructive suggestions for the greater involvement of voluntary organisations and will do all that we can to create a climate in which the voluntary sector can flourish. Indeed, we have gone a long way down that road in government at both national and local level. The requirement is structurally built into the way in which our local social services departments work together with the voluntary sector to provide services to their communities.
Education has a key role in providing support to parents in bringing up their children. It can convey the right messages and inculcate the right values. And because it can do that parents must be encouraged to be interested and involved in the education of their children. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Griffiths. If they are, education should reflect their priorities and beliefs, support them in their difficult task of bringing up their children and ensure that the classroom complements the family home.
Government can clearly do much. We can create the conditions under which good parents and responsible citizenship can flourish, but we cannot, nor should we, relieve parents of their responsibilities. However, we do recognise that, sadly, there is an increasing number of children who for one reason or another do not receive support from home and for whom school is the only anchor in their lives. It is the only place where they can receive a set of values and a moral framework in which they can learn and grow. That is why I believe that what government do, and what the other partners in education do, is of such vital importance and why we all have a part to play. That includes the Church and, as was said by my noble friend Lord Gisborough, there is also a responsibility on the media.
That view underpins much of Government policy: it aims to ensure that young people are adequately prepared to undertake the duties and responsibilities of marriage and family life and, as my noble friend has stressed, fully to understand that the responsibilities of parenthood are not to be taken lightly.
497 Section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988 requires that the curriculum as a whole for all maintained schools should promote the:spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of societyand prepare young people for the,opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".These complementary elements are essential for adult relationships, marriage and parenthood. This House consistently re-emphasises those points.
The promotion of family life is included in the national curriculum. Others may be included by schools in their programmes of religious, personal, social and health education or sex education. Some aspects of religious education and sex education in schools leaves a great deal to be desired. They were the subject of recent debates in this House.
Beyond the statutory requirements, it is for governing bodies to determine schools' policies on sex education. Giving governors this responsibility ensures that schools are accountable to their pupils' parents for what is provided and that these parents have the opportunity to influence governors' decisions.
All those responsible for providing sex education in the school—governors and teachers—must do so in such a way as to bring home to young people the moral dimension and the prime importance of the family. That applies equally to those elements specified within the national curriculum. Last week I watched the hour-long television programme "Female Parts". I was thoroughly depressed by the fact that there was a prolific discussion about sex but almost no hint of the moral framework within which that subject should be discussed.
The National Curriculum Council has recommended that family life education should be a key component of schools' programmes of personal and social education. NCC guidance documents on health education and education for citizenship have been issued to all maintained schools in England. Both give significant consideration to the content of family life education and ways of integrating it into the curriculum.
Curriculum guidance No. 5, dealing with health education, advises that the principal objective of family life education is:that pupils understand and value the central role of the family as an institution and the important part it plays in the development of attachment, love and concern".It suggests that pupils aged seven years and above should begin to understand what is meant by "relationships" within families, between friends and in the community, to understand the meaning of friendship and loyalty and begin to develop the skills needed to form relationships.
Curriculum guidance No. 8, dealing with education for citizenship, suggests that areas of study in family life education might include a study of family life-cycles and an understanding of:the importance of the family for physical and spiritual well-being, parenthood and child development, the fulfilment of emotional and physical needs".Other measures are designed to develop positive attitudes, self-confidence and responsibility in all 498 children as a preparation for adult life. I outline three of these. First, all Members of this House would surely agree that regular school attendance is essential for an effective education. Parents have a duty in law to ensure that their children of compulsory school age attend school regularly. But is is more than that; they must help their children to develop a positive attitude to school and to learning in general. It is a sad fact that parentally-condoned unjustified absence remains a serious problem. We must break out of this cycle, which has disadvantaged successive generations of children.
The Government have taken action on truancy but the onus must rest—as it always has and always will —with individual parents to encourage their children to pay proper attention to their studies. Only by inculcating such attitudes into the present generation of schoolchildren can we hope to influence the parents of tomorrow.
Secondly, it is surely beyond doubt that effective learning can only take place in an orderly atmosphere. The committee of inquiry led by my noble friend Lord Elton considered the issue of school discipline in the admirable report Discipline in Schools which remains essential reading. A full chapter was devoted to the crucial part that parents play in shaping the attitudes that produce sustained good behaviour in schools. Again, that point was emphasised by my noble friend Lady Carnegy.
Thirdly, each person must have positive attitudes towards work and the responsibility that it brings. The schools also bear a responsibility here: an orderly atmosphere in school; a firm yet fair framework of discipline; a moral and spiritual ethos; a readiness to distinguish between right and wrong; what is desirable and undesirable behaviour and what is moral and amoral; and the determination to develop within children the ability to learn and to help them take advantage of the national curriculum. These things more than anything will equip children, both those from supportive homes but more especially those children who do not enjoy the support at home, to take their place in the community as responsible adults.
The Motion before your Lordships is very much in line with the basic philosophy behind the Children Act 1989. That legislation strikes a balance between family autonomy and the rights of children. The Act holds the welfare of all children to be paramount, and makes major changes to the private law relating to children. It introduces the concept of parental responsibility to replace that of "parental rights and duties" and emphasises the obligations of the parents' role. The Act recognises that parents are the best people to bring up their children and that the family is the natural environment for children. Our aim is to provide a secure future for children. That can be achieved if parents, courts, voluntary organisations and central government work together.
Where it is necessary, local authorities should provide services to help parents to bring up their children in the home and these services should be provided in partnership with families. Local authorities must identify children in need in their area and 499 publicise the services they offer to support the families of those children. They must also set up a representations and complaints procedure with an independent element for those dissatisfied with the services provided.
Over 90 per cent. of children aged from two to five are to be found in organised education or under-five provision. They are at an early stage in the development of those social skills on which the success of their future learning will depend. The benefits of that provision may be deep and long-lasting, both in aiding the social and cognitive development of the children and in supporting the efforts of parents to bring them up well.
One strength of that provision lies in its variety. This country has brought together in an exceptional manner the strengths of the public, private and voluntary sectors and there has been notable growth over the last decade across the settings.
A good working relationship between provider and parents is one mark of effectiveness across the various settings. It has been given particular emphasis in the playgroup movement. The work of the Pre-School Playgroups Association is based on the belief that parents are the main educators of their children. By involving parents in all aspects of the management of groups and by special courses the PPA seeks to enable parents to fulfil that role.
The Government recognise the need to secure high standards of day care. That is why the Children Act secures conditions for the registration of day care providers and childminders. It is also why a former Secretary of State set up the Rumbold Committee to look at ways of improving provision for the under-fives. Its report Starting with Quality underlined the place of an educational component within good day care. Further research has been commissioned to do with the quality of care for the under-fives.
The role of the voluntary sector is crucial in any consideration of parenting. I have mentioned already the work of the Pre-School Playgroups Association. However, the actions of voluntary bodies complement those of local authority social services departments and they play a particularly important role in the area of advice, counselling, and befriending. Voluntary bodies are particularly attractive to those parents who may he reluctant to make a formal approach to local authorities for support and assistance.
The Department of Health funds many voluntary bodies on a regular basis, including funding to voluntary organisations for training in the Children Act. In addition, the department provides grants for specific projects and from time to time launches specific initiatives.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Griffiths at this point that his idea about being more innovative and trying out other ideas is one which I shall certainly take back to my colleagues in the department.
The Government are very willing to consider any specific proposals which might be stimulated by today's debate or which might arise from the Rowntree Foundation study of family support options to which my noble friend referred.
500 We are addressing the issue of special educational needs for children and we shall soon be issuing a consultative paper. We shall also be producing a white paper later this year which will build on the Education Reform Act 1988. I believe that in education we have the framework in place. Through the Children Act, and with the encouragement of the voluntary sector, I believe that the support systems are also in place.
This Government's policies run across many other departments; for example, the Department of Health has targeted aid to enhance child care and support; the Department of Social Security targets its financial help, and will increasingly so on those most needy; the Department of Employment is concerned with the advice and training of young people; and the Home Office is a lead department on protection measures for young people—for example, the tackling of drug and solvent abuse.
My noble friend Lord Joseph referred to Home-Start, a voluntary body working in the private sector in an excellent way. It has done some really practical work. That work is extremely valuable. That was an innovation of Margaret Harrison, whom I have met. She is an exceptional and extremely impressive young lady. She started in a small way in Leicestershire and her work continues.
My noble friend Lord Joseph mentioned also the issue of the introduction of transferable tax allowances. In 1986 a Green Paper was issued on the reform of personal taxation. That considered a proposal to allow the full transfer of personal allowances. However, the Government concluded at that time that there was not enough support to enable them to go ahead with such a far-reaching reform. The present rules for the married couple's allowance were designed to ensure that a husband's total allowances did not fall with the introduction of independent taxation and that a married couple would enjoy the same total allowances, whichever partner had the highest income. As a way of targeting families with children, the proposal for transferable allowances is not particularly well aimed; for example, that would also benefit childless one-earner couples.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that she would like more support to be given to organisations giving advice on marital breakdown. At national and local levels funds are being given to advice services. Indeed, the Home Office provides core funding to five major voluntary marriage guidance organisations to support the training of counsellors. The counselling is to help couples avoid marital breakdown and, if that is not possible, to reduce hostility and to encourage continuing co-operation as regards the children.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was anxious also about the level of child benefit. We are committed to increasing the current value of child benefit each year in line with prices. That will continue to be paid to all families in respect of all children. However, that is only one of the comprehensive range of benefits which can help families with children, particularly needy families with children.
As regards the National Stepfamily Association—an association with which I am familiar—the Department of Health gives core funding to that 501 association. That is to be reviewed again in March 1993. It is also to be funded for a development project under the Family Support Initiative promoting services to children in need.
The right reverend Prelate referred to the importance of Government support for voluntary projects and services for the family. As I said, the Department of Health funds many voluntary bodies on a regular basis. In the financial year 1990–91 we provided £250,000 to voluntary organisations for training in the Children Act. In addition, we provide grants for specific projects and from time to time launch specific initiatives. An example of that was the Family Support Initiative. The department will spend £1.5 million over the next three years, starting this financial year, on the development of services for children in need within their families by funding projects operated by voluntary organisations which are original and innovative and which promote the use of the voluntary sector by local authorities in that field.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, before my noble friend leaves the question of funding, will she take on board what my noble friend Lord Caldecote and other noble Lords said about the difficulties of being unsure of funding in advance and, if possible, the desirability of having rolling funding for a number of years rather than one? It makes the most enormous difference to the way in which charities are run.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, my noble friend has pre-empted me. I was coming to that later, but I am happy to deal with it now. It is an important issue. Indeed, my own local authority seized on this point some time ago. It has taken a view about certain voluntary organisations. My noble friend Lady Faithfull is right. One has to be certain that they are achieving the mutual objectives of both the local authority and the voluntary organisations. We went on to a three-year rolling programme of core funding for those voluntary organisations which were deemed to be important to us.
I now move to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Elton. He was concerned about cross-curricula themes and thought that they might be squeezed out by the statutory curriculum. Schools are necessarily giving priority to the implementation of the statutory orders in the core and foundation subjects of the national curriculum. However, there is absolutely no intention to downgrade cross-curricula themes which are in fact delivered mainly through those core and foundation subjects. My noble friend knows that religious education, sex education and moral and spiritual education are just some examples of that.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lady Carnegie, referred to the Scottish Law Commission. As I understand it, the commission's proposal is about stopping excessive and unreasonable punishment of children. In England and Wales the law already forbids any punishment which goes beyond the reasonable or involves abuse and cruelty. Of course, it is very much for the courts to decide what is reasonable or unreasonable.
502 My noble friend Lady Carnegie of Lour was concerned about the publicising of help available to parents. Again, the Children Act requires local authorities to promote and publicise family support services including those provided by other agencies, which includes voluntary organisations. I can assure my noble friend that the Department of Health is also monitoring that aspect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was concerned about the preparation for parenthood—a very important matter. Again, in addition to parenting being addressed in personal and social education in many schools, the parentcraft classes are included in ante-natal programmes. It is interesting that parents who have had one child seldom attend the parenthood classes when having their next or subsequent children. That is a pity. Fathers are encouraged to attend the classes. Many of the classes are held at times more convenient to parents. All new mothers should receive copies of Health Education Association publications which include advice on how to care for new babies and young children.
The size of that challenge was brought home to me yesterday. I was told about a young boy talking to another. He said that he had four different fathers to his four different brothers. The other young boy, who came from a very supportive home, found that very confusing and could not understand it. The young boy said, "My mum gets bored with my dads and they have to go and she gets another one". That is the size of the task we are facing when we consider the issue of parenting.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and some noble Lords were concerned about flexible working arrangements. The Government take every opportunity to encourage employers to consider adopting flexible working arrangements. It makes sound business sense. Career breaks, flexible hours, job sharing, homeworking, and, where appropriate, assistance with child care help to enable employers to tap the full potential of their workforce.
My noble friend Lord Caldecote took us back to what I call the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s. He referred to the era of education when discipline was lax in schools and education lacked structure. For too many children the basic subjects were not always studied throughout the school years. There is possibly some correlation between that and the parents of today. Many of the problems that we have now concern parents who were children in schools at that time. I hope that those days are behind us. There is much more structure in the curriculum and there is very definitely a "back to basics" as regards subjects.
Reference was also made to outside sporting and recreational charities. That point was very well taken. I have dealt with the long-term funding. My noble friend Lord Gisborough said that we should help lone parents on low incomes with additional costs. I say to him that there is extra help for lone parents who wish to work. They are being given higher disregards and better tax allowances. They may claim additional personal allowances. Under the Children Act local 503 authorities must provide day care for children. I believe that over £100 million has been spent this year by local authorities on day care for these children.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked what had happened to the London Care Committee. I have no idea. I am advised by all the worthy people in the Box that they have no idea either. I shall go back to the drawing hoard on that matter and write to the noble Lord. He also pleaded with us to improve relationships with local authorities, in the interests of children. I can give him an absolute assurance that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health is doing great work in that respect. There was also an appeal for crèches and facilities for the under-fives. Again, much work is being done on that front. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, also appealed for outreach workers in primary schools. I shall take that message back to my honourable friends.
My noble friend Lord Griffiths mentioned innovative ideas in his excellent speech and said that we should be looking around to find out where the best ones are and do something about them. I promise my noble friend that I shall do that.
It was Mrs. Thatcher, whom we shall soon welcome as a full Member of this House, who once said that there is no such thing as society. I believe that is right. Society is only the sum of its parts. If society is anything, it is an amalgam of individuals. If one uses the rotten apple in the barrel analogy, society is no different. The more that individuals are amoral and lack respect for people and property, the less wholesome society will be. However, the more that individuals are moral, spiritual, self-disciplined and have respect for people and property, then the more wholesome and healthy society will be. If we are successful that must be the aim for our young people. If we are successful then I believe that better parenting will follow.
§ 6.57 p.m.
My Lords, we must be grateful to the Minister for devoting nearly half an hour to commenting on all the speeches. I, for one, shall read with great care what she said. Her voice, as Shakespeare made King Lear comment on Cordelia, was gentle, which is a commendable thing in woman. But until the very last peroration of my noble friend I could not hear everything she said. As I say, there is much for us to study.
The debate has revealed a great deal of common ground on both sides of the House. I express my gratitude to all noble Lords who have spoken. Every speech has been sensitive, constructive, deeply felt and sincere. It is invidious to pick out particular speeches. However, I know that I am entitled by the practice of the House to mention the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate. I believe that the whole House found its communal heart warmed by what he said and how he said it. I hope that we shall have many more similar speeches from him.
There were notable speeches from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friends Lady Faithfull and Lady Strange. They managed to make us not only 504 feel and reflect, but also laugh. If, of all the notable speeches that have been made, I mention especially those of my noble friends Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Lord Elton and Lord Caldecote, that is in no way to denigrate the speeches of any other noble Lords.
As regards the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Turner, I am not in the least surprised that they took the opportunity to point out some related economic factors. There are many occasions on which we can discuss, debate and argue those issues. But the Motion is intended to focus on the voluntary services. That is why, for the first time recently, I followed a Commons practice and intervened in the noble Baroness's speech.
One factor about the voluntary services was mentioned several times, although I do not think that it received enough emphasis. I refer to the practice of the voluntary services identifying newly emerging needs and pioneering practices which the Government often follow for dealing with them.
The problem of funding has been common ground. It is a paradox that just as the issue is raised, the Audit Commission deluges us with evidence of waste in the public services. Surely it is common ground to ask the Government to find ways in which some of the savings to be made by following up the Audit Commission's appraisal can be devoted to enabling the voluntary services to be even more effective. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.