HL Deb 23 February 1994 vol 552 cc634-701

3.4 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde rose to call attention to the United Nations International Year of the Family and to support for the family in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I feel honoured to move the Motion today— honoured because the family— in all its various shapes and sizes in the UK — is important to all of us, and honoured because we shall hear maiden speeches from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre.

In 1988 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that 1994 should be designated the International Year of the Family. It was a timely choice of topic and one which has been taken up by over 100 countries throughout the world. The overall theme for the year is "Family Resources and Responsibilities in a Changing World" and the objective is that governments should develop long-term family friendly policies.

Although the debate calls attention to support for the family in the UK, the year is an international one and I have no doubt that noble Lords may well rightly wish to develop that theme. Families all over the world are struggling to survive, thrive and make some sense and order out of the colossal changes confronting the world at the end of the 20th century.

Perhaps I may say at the outset that the debate is in no way intended to single out and point the finger in any morally judgmental way. Nor is it an attempt to dictate individual personal standards of conduct. It is important to start by recognising the very major and positive contribution that families make to our society, often under tremendous difficulties. Those of us who were brought up in a happy, supportive family know only too well how fortunate we have been and what a marvellous start in life it gave to us. We may not have had much by way of material luxuries but the sense of well-being, of being wanted and loved, gave a feeling of security which was immeasurable. So this year should be a celebration of the family in all its various forms and sizes.

Some would question if "the family" as we have known it still exists, and, if it does, whether it has a future. The family in society has changed over the ages; it has not remained in one static form. But, yes, I believe very much that it does have a future; indeed, it is at the very heart of the kind of society that I would hope we have in the future.

Families here in the UK have never been more diverse, more under pressure and more in need. In recent months, the very nature of the family here has been under the intense glare of a harsh spotlight which has tended to lay so many of our current problems at the door of families and especially parents. I believe that that has been wrong and totally misguided.

Family, of course, means different things to different people. What has emerged is the knowledge that, although opinions vary about what family means, there is strong agreement that families do indeed matter and that their well-being is crucial to the well-being of society.

The UK International Year of the Family Association is leading the campaign in this country. Organisations in the voluntary sector, despite the tremendous pressures they are toiling under, have joined the campaign. Business, the trade unions, education and community groups are all involved in giving active support to the year.

Government are also involved. But they need to do more. The challenge of the year cannot be shuffled off to the voluntary sector, and in other countries that has been recognised. The role of government and the policies they adopt is crucial to developing the intentions of the year and making the UK a much more family friendly place than it sadly is today. The UK Government have, I gather, put in a commitment of something like £ 100,000. On the other hand, the Australian Government, with similar economic problems to ours, have given the equivalent of £ 6 million to this vital work.

The theme of the year raises fundamental questions. Who are our families? What are their views about the family? What are their hopes, aspirations, experience and problems, and what would help them manage their lives more effectively? At the end of the year, a conference will report back on some of the answers to those questions, as seen by the family, to create a family agenda for change.

No doubt individual speakers will choose to concentrate on one of the many topics covered by the three themes for the year. I would like to take my time in ranging over the themes, identifying some points of particular concern to me. Families and work is the first theme. There is a need to help people achieve a better balance between their paid work responsibilities and their family and caring responsibilities. The world of work has gone through so many changes, yet work provides the basis of stability in the family. A secure job provides the springboard for the family to plan their lives together and to see their standards improve by their own hard work. Without work there is little hope.

Continuing high unemployment and drastic structural changes to work patterns, casualisation, temporary work, and the replacement of full-time jobs by part-time, all contribute to a lack of family security which undermines stability in the home. How does a family plan to buy their own home? How dare they enter into a mortgage when the breadwinner is on a casual contract which will never become permanent or when a job may finish at the end of a fixed term, and when neither job carries pension accumulation rights, holiday pay or sick pay?

Part-time employment has a positive role to play, especially for women, but not when those part-time jobs carry no proportional benefits to the full-time jobs they have replaced. In the 1980s 1.3 million jobs, all of them part-time, were created. We have now seen the emergence of the working poor. Their pay is so low that 40 per cent. of those designated as living in poverty are actually in work — in low paid jobs. All of that puts enormous pressure on the ability of families to take responsibility for themselves; to provide and not to be dependent upon the state. A recent government commissioned survey came to the conclusion that the increasingly unregulated labour market was returning to the way it was in the 19th century; to the master and slave relationship that existed before trade unions were able to represent people. It is a form of industrial peasantry.

Certainly, the abolition of wages councils is now generally accepted as being responsible for the emergence of many below poverty wage levels. Most of the 2.5 million workers affected by the elimination of wages councils were women. Most of them were receiving the princely sum of £ 2.50 to £ 3.60 per hour. I suggest that it is to our shame that Britain is the only country in the European Union without a legal minimum wage.

In January a debate took place in this House, initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on nursery education and child care. It was a first-class debate. Not surprisingly, it made the case yet again of the crucial and urgent need for nursery education and child care provision. I know that the Employment Committee in another place is looking at the subject of provision for working mothers and that part of its consideration will be that of child care. Surely, in this International Year of the Family, we can make progress. We can do it; we did it in World War II. The Equal Opportunities Commission, the TUC and many other bodies have identified this as the single biggest step which could be made in helping single parents today.

The Government have said that child care will be provided when resources are available. When is that? The question that needs to be asked is: can we afford not to provide affordable and good child care? Many local authorities already provide nursery school places. Only last week I was gratified to see that 40 per cent. of all three to four year-old children living in Labour controlled areas are in nursery education. Unfortunately, the equivalent for Conservative areas is only 13 per cent.

The second core theme of the International Year of the Family is poverty and family resources. The latest figures suggest that no matter what measure is used to define poverty, there has been a considerable increase in the past decade. But poverty is not just about a lack of money; it is also about a lack of opportunity, particularly in families where one of the members has a disability. Experience of the Family Welfare Association, which is 125 years old this year, gives us much that we should listen to in this International Year of the Family. Its concern is that large sections of our society have become marginalised, leading to a consequent loss of shared responsibility for each other. Such shared family responsibility and a value system should be the hallmark of any civilised society.

Our record in recent years in Britain has not been a good one in dealing with poverty, especially when we are led to believe that the 1980s was a period of economic expansion. That was not the experience of many families. In 1991,13.5 million people in Britain — or 24 per cent. of the population— were living in poverty, compared with 9 per cent. in 1979. Of the 13.5 million,8 million were parents with children. Today,4 million children in Britain live in poor households. Poverty is the black hole of descent into helplessness, alienation from mainstream society and despair for so many families affected by poverty. The repercussions on family life, the pressure on support services, especially the voluntary ones, and on society as a whole are very damaging.

Increasing debt in the family is one manifestation of the growth of poverty. In 1993 the Citizens' Advice Bureau published two reports about its anxieties. One, called Make or Break, looked at people living below benefit levels due to the deductions from their benefit. Another, called Out of Control, looked at the difficulties of poor people having access to the supply of gas, electricity and water. That too was raised in another place only this week.

Some years ago my mother reminded me of an old saying, "When poverty comes through the door, love goes through the window". Perhaps, like all generalisations, that is not totally accurate, but there is a grain of truth in it. Continual worry about money, knowing that as each week goes by debt is becoming larger, with no possible hope of repaying it, must have an impact on family life. And it was a harsh fact of British life in the 1980s that the number of homeless families with children rose by 46 per cent. during that decade.

Many noble Lords will, like me, remember the stunning impact of the television drama, "Cathy Come Home", which was broadcast some years ago. Although a drama, it made us sit up and take note of the plight of homeless families. Have we perhaps become too selfish to respond similarly today? Has the cult of the individual overtaken the collective responsibility that we must share'?

I am sure that none of us is comfortable with the fact that last year's National Children's Home survey of 354 families, half of whom were on income support, showed that one in five had gone hungry at some time in the previous month. Yet, amazingly, despite such a desperately depressing picture, the majority of families do manage to stay together. We must remember that. They still provide a stable, loving and supportive home for their children.

I believe that the Government should agree, in this International Year of the Family, to test every fiscal policy against a set of values and "How will this affect the family in all its various shapes and sizes and what positive help will it give?". If that had been the test, the changes due in April would not have brought 400,000 low paid people into the tax system. What impact will that have on already hard pressed families? What will it yield to the Treasury?

In the 1970s the gap between rich and poor was getting smaller. The 1980s reversed that trend. Whereas the average income of the population as a whole grew by 36 per cent, the real income of the bottom 10 per cent. of our society fell by 14 per cent. Real incomes for the top 10 per cent., however, rose by 62 per cent. during that same decade. That hardly gives out the right messages or examples to families in poverty.

Families and relationships is the third theme of the year of the family. Healthy relationships are crucial to the well-being of families. All too clearly, the pressures of change on families are taking their toll on relationships and family life. Being a parent today presents enormous challenges. I was interested to read four positive proposals from Relate, the marriage guidance body. Relate proposed that we should extend relationship education; reform the law on divorce; strengthen counselling services; and promote real research into marriage, divorce and relationships. I hope that those proposals will be adopted.

There is the impact, too, of the increasing number of people in the "third age", as demonstrated by the Carnegie sponsored third age report. I look forward very much to hearing the contributions of noble Lords. The United Nations year can make a difference if we choose to make it so. There is little doubt in my mind that economic policy must be linked with social justice. It has to be recognised that the increasing emphasis on individualism, exemplified in our economic orthodoxies, is presenting a serious challenge to family values and a challenge to us all, not least the purveyors of some of the hairshirt philosophies which have brought us to this low point. I recognise that it will not be possible to deal immediately with all the changes needed to meet the challenge of the International Year of the Family but we could, and we should, make a start in this year. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I wish to start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for introducing this debate today. The family is of such fundamental importance to society that I am sure we all welcome the opportunity to discuss it. I begin by saying how much we look forward to hearing the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Oxford, whom I think of as both a friend and a neighbour, and whose contributions on "Thought for Today" on Friday mornings I am sure we have all heard. I also wish the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, well. We all look forward to hearing her maiden speech today.

I am sorry that I cannot take part in the debate which is to follow this one and which is to be introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. As he may well say, he and I stood shoulder to shoulder, as it were, in the Oxford Union some two weeks ago proposing the motion that this House would welcome a return to traditional family values. I am happy to say that we won that motion. Without wishing in any way to draw too many conclusions from this one debate, it seems to me to illustrate that young, highly intelligent and articulate students, all opinion-formers, are concerned about the state of the family today. That is a point to which I shall return.

What is the state of the family today? I do not think there can be any disagreement about the figures because after all they have all been recently produced in the latest issue of Social Trends. In referring to the figures I am stating facts; I do not in any sense wish to apportion blame to anyone. The facts are that one in three marriages now end in divorce; there are thought to be something like 150,000 children each year who become the victims of divorce. Those people who cohabit before marriage have a higher rate of divorce. Thirty per cent. of babies are born out of wedlock. Single parent families represent some one in five British households. The number has risen from 840,000 in 1979 to 1.3 million today. One-parent families have almost doubled as a proportion of all families with dependent children from 10 per cent in 1976 to 19 per cent. in 1991. The cost of all this— if we are worried about that — is £ 6.6 billion a year.

There are three other trends which I detect. There are now a number of women who apparently think that it is their right to have a baby. I am not referring to teenage pregnancies but to pregnancies among older women. That seems to me a most dangerous slogan because it suggests that a baby is rather like a commodity to be bought off the supermarket shelf along with the cornflakes. There is another attitude which I find becoming increasingly common and which was referred to on a recent television programme. It implies that men are at best a liability to be disposed of at the first possible opportunity, or at worst an irrelevance. I find it surprising that I should speak up for men but I think this is a rather sorry situation.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sorry for you. There has also been a decline in the birth rate. In the United Kingdom the figure is 1.8 per cent.; in Germany it is 1.6 per cent and in Italy and Spain it is probably between 1.2 and 1.4 per cent. If that were to continue, one can see that we shall eventually die out as a race. Perhaps that is a desirable outcome but it is a trend which needs to be observed. Bearing in mind this catalogue of facts, it is not an exaggeration to say there is a real danger of a breakdown in the fabric of society. If we were to be here in five years' time, what would be the statistics on this? There would be more divorces, more children born out of wedlock and more single parent families. We are going down, at a very rapid pace, an extremely slippery slope and no one knows what the end of it will bring. This is a new situation which has really only existed in the past 30 years. I believe it is relevant to ask what the United Nations International Year of the Family will contribute to all of this.

Three particular themes have been identified in relation to this year of the family. The first one is families and work — that was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. I serve on the boards of two companies, the National Westminster Bank and Marks and Spencer. They are both members of Opportunity 2000. Both support fair employment practices and both have introduced flexible work practices such as career breaks for women with small children, job sharing, job splitting, part-time work, and opportunities to enable employees to work in the school term and to stay at home in the holidays. These are all desirable trends which need to be adopted more widely by employers.

At one point when I was a Minister I had ministerial responsibility for the Civil Service. Tremendous efforts were made to apply all those good practices. I have absolutely no reason to suppose that that has stopped. However, we must face the fact that it is much more difficult for small companies and companies that are just starting up (from where the new jobs will emerge) to apply all these practices. Certainly that is so when companies are just starting up. We must also face the fact that all of us are entering a vastly more competitive world. The Government cannot alter the power or halt the rise of the countries of the Far East. That will affect all of us fundamentally, whatever our views.

Secondly, the issue of families and poverty has been mentioned. Much has been said about poverty and no one can see it as anything other than a tragedy. However, an important question is asked in a briefing I was sent; namely, who are the poor? Most of the poor in 1990– 91 comprised lone parents. I do not think that should surprise us. After all, it is difficult for a man to support two wives. It is difficult for a woman to manage on her own, no matter how well educated and capable she may be. One of the tragedies that underlines all this is that so many families today comprise lone parents and are therefore poor. Unemployed people are also poor. Again that is a tragedy but we ought at least to be grateful that in Britain unemployment is coming down, unlike many countries on the Continent of Europe and in the European Economic Union, where unemployment is still rising. Real incomes have risen. Even after a long recession the average British married man with two children is more than 40 per cent. better off than he was in 1979.

The third matter which I wish to raise is families and relationships. I believe that this is the most important of all. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, referred to RELATE. I believe that it is valuable that there should be more emphasis on training for relationships, but we must understand what they are. If relationships in the family are to work they require commitment and responsibility. When the going gets very tough it is difficult to bring up children.

I found the statement in the briefing that the family is the smallest democracy absurd. A family is not a democracy. The husband and wife are equals but they stand in loco parentis to the children. One of the most damaging things today is that we undermine parents and take away their responsibilities and far too much is placed on children at too early an age. That type of slogan simply emphasises that fact.

My time is up, but I should like to conclude by saying that in relationships we ought as a country to look very seriously at supporting the traditional family, for the sake of the children, for the sake of their education and for the sake of us all in an uncertain world in the future.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Dahrendorf

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for having given us the opportunity to have this debate this afternoon. Like the two previous speakers, and as a recent maiden speaker myself, I should like to wish the two maiden speakers this afternoon well. I hope that the House will pardon an Oxford head of house if he looks forward with particular eagerness to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.

The subject we are discussing is one in which every one of us must declare an interest. Many in this House undoubtedly have more reason than I have to be pleased with their own contribution to family life, and I do not make any particular claims. However, I shall make one general claim, if your Lordships will pardon a few brief words of philosophy.

In modern free societies we depend for our well-being, or, as I should like to put it, for our life chances, above all on three things: on the rights which we all have as citizens to participate in the lives of our society, including labour markets; on the choices which are open to us, many of which are choices opened up by economic opportunities; and on a sense of belonging, which we can obtain only from religion, local links and ties and, perhaps ultimately, from the family in which we live.

Those three pillars of our well-being do not necessarily easily support each other. We have to see that the development of individual rights of citizenship — to my mind one of the most desirable and important developments of the past two centuries— at the same time has not necessarily contributed to keeping intact the bonds of locality, religion and family.

Similarly, we have to recognise that some of the advances which we have made economically have not by the same token strengthened families, localities or other bonds of belonging. Values of competitiveness, efficiency, productivity and flexibility are immensely important. Certainly I would not deny their importance in creating a world of choices and prosperity. But they are also high risk values. They are values which often set one person against another, and which create a sense of competition and rivalry where, in certain areas, we depend for our well-being on solidarity and community.

Therefore, one of the most important questions which we face as we discuss the family as the core of this sense of community and solidarity is how we can have the kind of economic, social and political progress which we seek and at the same time not destroy the cohesion of the communities in which we live, notably that of the family.

That is not an easy question to answer. I do not suggest that there is any clear answer to it. But I believe that there is reason for us to consider whether we are offering the right kinds of incentive to keep the bonds of community and family strong while developing economically and politically.

Perhaps I may give three brief examples of what I have in mind, again without being in a position to offer any clear solutions. It is right and proper that women should be able to go to work on an equal footing with men. It is right and proper that opportunities should be offered to all citizens, men and women alike. Yet something strange is happening in relation to mothers who work. If mothers go out to work and perhaps use a part of their income to support someone who looks after their children, that has a wonderful effect on that measure of growth which we are all so fond of— gross domestic product. If they stay at home and look after their children and their families, that has a negative effect on gross domestic product, at least in the terms in which we normally measure it.

In other words, we are somehow or other going for economic advances which may, at least in this little corner and by implication, have an interesting and dare I say negative effect on another set of values— the values of the family. A mother who looks after her children at home makes no contribution to GDP. A mother who goes to work and uses part of her income to finance somebody who looks after her children makes two contributions to GDP.

What exactly do we want? Are there not ways not merely of rethinking what we mean by wealth and wealth creation, but of rethinking the ways in which we recognise the contribution of women who stay at home and look after their families and their children, acknowledging why they do so, and recognising it later in life in the form of pension entitlements? That is a broad question, and an important one if we want to build incentives for the family into our world.

My second point— and again I have to be far too brief to do justice to it— concerns the question of single mothers. There is no particular reason to believe that having a single mother is worse for the child than living with an unhappy couple. Nevertheless, it is a fact that one in five children grow up in lone parent families, and the numbers are growing. It is also a fact that there is a growing number of men who do not seem to belong anywhere— and incidentally, unemployment figures are much worse for men than for women— who hang around, who are alienated and disenchanted. They perhaps form the material from which some of the delinquency which we see around us is made. How can we create conditions which provide incentives for those two separate lifestyles to come together? Can we create such incentives? Can we do something in the field of housing? Can we create incentives for charities or philanthropists to build communities which provide a basis for the re-creation of families?

I wish briefly to mention a third major issue. The nuclear family has long replaced the extended family. However, the replacement of the extended family by the nuclear family has meant that we have a growing number of old people who are not looked after in any regular sense in a family context. A growing number of sick and elderly people are palmed off to institutions; and in those institutions they have little opportunity to live a life which is even for moments satisfactory and full. We accept responsibility for young children. We do not accept the responsibility for many of the elderly in need. Perhaps that, too, is an area in which incentives which we could afford could be created for families. No society in the medium term can afford to look after the needy elderly as life expectancy extends and the number of those in need grows. That again forms a starting point for more action for the family. Thus, this year should give us the opportunity to rethink some specific social issues in order to make real what we believe in— the family as a value.

3.42 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to support, in the guise of a maiden, the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and for her kindly words of welcome and those of my Oxford neighbours.

I know that many in this House share the feeling that things have been going seriously wrong with the family. Vast social forces have been at work shaking the very concept of the family to its foundation. Things good in themselves, such as the emancipation of women, the financial independence of women, and contraception, together with the availability of divorce and a libertarian sexual ethos, are widely recognised as factors. But there are others— for example, the simple fact that we all now live longer. The average length of a marriage now is in fact longer than it was 150 years ago. Then, many women died as a result of child bearing and the average marriage did not last much longer than 14 years. Now couples face the prospect of 60 or more years together with each phase posing a particular challenge. As someone once put it, "For better, for worse, yes; for richer, for poorer, yes; in sickness and in health, yes. Home for lunch every day, no".

All our families, including those of noble Lords, are affected by current changes. Many of us therefore will welcome the United Nations emphasis this year on the family, and what has already been said in the debate. I should like to say something first about one kind of invaluable support that can be given to families in the United Kingdom, and then something about the international dimension.

Not all is gloom. For example, there are at present 6 million informal carers in Britain— people with responsibility for the disabled or elderly— of whom 43 per cent. are in paid employment. Contrary to the popular myth that family members have moved away from each other, a recent British study showed that 32 per cent. lived under an hour away and only 9 per cent. reported that they were more than five hours away from their family. Contact is also fairly frequent, with 69 per cent. of older people in the UK having contact with their families at least once a week.

Nevertheless, as we all recognise, these are times of unprecedented pressure on the family. The Church is doing what it always seeks to do; upholding the ideal of a lifelong union in which children can be brought up, as the old Prayer Book put it, in the "fear and nurture of the Lord", and at the same time ministering with understanding to those whose families have broken up or who have no close family ties. Other noble Lords will speak of some of the work that is being carried on by secular bodies. So far as concerns the Churches,25 Church organisations of all denominations are fully committed to making the idea of an International Year of the Family a reality.

Within the family the well-being of children will, I know, be of particular concern to the House. Here I should particularly like to stress the importance of educating and supporting parents in their role. Parents, particularly those who themselves experienced poor parenting, need help. Invaluable work is being done by voluntary organisations such as Homestart, Parentline, and by nurturing programmes, but at the moment those organisations reach only a few thousand families. In the United States, where the work is well developed, it is now generally accepted that for every dollar that is spent on parenting education and support, six dollars are saved in reduced cost of crime, health and welfare.

In relation to children, the Churches particularly welcome the Prime Minister's target of universal state education from the age of three. But at the moment less than half three and four year-olds are in nursery education and, as has already been pointed out, provision varies widely from one authority to another. Pre-school education, like parenting support programmes, has beneficial effects not just for the children themselves but for the whole future of our society. For example, a recent study, Crime in the Family, concluded that pre-school education has a key role to play in reducing crime. A good school builds up a relationship with parents and by getting parents involved, addresses two problems associated with delinquency; namely, parental disinterest and pupil failure. Prevention is better than cure. Money put into pre-school education is a better investment than money put into solving crime in later years with those teenagers.

Such early education is not only life enhancing for mainstream children, but life changing for those who are disadvantaged. It is also, of course, of crucial importance for women who work. The percentage of working women in Great Britain with pre-school education children has increased from 24 per cent. in 1981 to 42 per cent. in 1991. In contrast, the proportion of lone parents in employment has fallen from 47 per cent. to 43 per cent. in the past 15 years. I very much hope that the Government target can indeed become a financial priority and that all means will be deployed to achieve this clear and eminently worthwhile goal.

This is the International Year of the Family and the concern of the Churches is not limited to this country. In November of last year,1,000 delegates from 100 countries met in Malta to consider the state of the family worldwide. The general conclusion was that there is very great pressure on the family in almost every country in the world with stress increasing greatly. All governments, they concluded, need to take the concept of the family more seriously. Until now, understandably enough, we have taken the family and its survival for granted. However, we now have to wake up to the fact that we can no longer afford to do that. In particular, we need to look at the impact of all policies on the family. Economic and political programmes need to bear in mind the question whether they will support or undermine the family.

From time to time we read of some horrifying statistic— for example, more than 100 children shot dead in a year in a Brazilian city: shot like vermin simply because they have nowhere to live and nothing to live on. We cannot dissociate these terrible scenes from the quality of governments and the effect of their economic policies. A combination of corruption by the ruling oligarchies, capital flight, and international debt, results in policies which directly affect family life for ill. Millions of landless rural poor make their way to the rubbish tips outside already swollen cities, sending yet more children into the streets to a life of abject poverty, crime and potential death.

We cannot separate the well-being of the family from the social and economic forces which bear upon those families. There is a tendency in some quarters to polarise debates between those who emphasise personal morality and those who emphasise social factors. The fact is that both apply. Human nature does not change very much. After the 1917 revolution in Russia, people used to consult Lenin about life in a socialist society. One peasant tramped hundreds of miles to ask: "Comrade Lenin, is it permissible in the new society for a mart to keep a mistress?" "Comrade," replied Lenin, "it is not only permissible, it is obligatory, for then a man can tell his mistress that he has to be with his wife and can say to his wife that he is with his mistress. Meanwhile he can be getting down to some solid work in the library".

In order to support the family, we need both personal ideals and political policies which strengthen rather than undermine family bonds. The Churches do all they can at a local level, both here and overseas, but in addition to that we need to examine all political and economic policies in order to evaluate their effect upon the family.

I am grateful for this opportunity, not only on behalf of the Church of England but of all the Churches in this country who are deeply committed to the cause, to support the thrust of the Motion.

3.51 p.m.

Lord Misheon

My Lords, before embarking on a speech which will have the invaluable advantage of being short, may I on behalf of all your Lordships say how much we enjoyed the speech which has just been delivered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford? The son of an outstanding soldier, he himself has been a great and courageous soldier of the Church. He is the first person, to my knowledge, who in this House has shown an amusing side to Lenin.

Perhaps I shall also be forgiven if I mention the speaker who is to succeed me in saying, again on behalf of your Lordships, how delighted we are that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, is able to make a speech to us today. We always enjoy his contributions and we are glad that he is 'well enough to be with us this afternoon.

I said that I would be brief; I have only Four points that I wish to mention. My noble friend Lady Dean spoke in the introduction to her speech of the advantages that all in this House most likely enjoyed by way of family life. One of the outstanding points in regard to that was that we had a home. That was the basis of our family life.

Only a week ago today, on 14th February, this was the headline in the London Evening Standard: Human cost of London's heartbreak families". I quote the first paragraph of the article: It breaks up families, ruins their health and causes endless heartbreak. It also costs hundreds of millions of pounds a year — and yet being kept in sub-standard hostels and bed-and-breakfast hotels is the only answer for thousands of homeless families in London". The article goes on to talk about a special appeal by Barnardos to try to assist in the problems of those who seek homes. I hope and believe that it would be a common plea from all sides of your Lordships' House: may the Family Year lead to a campaign to see that the homeless are fewer, that homes are built and that local authorities are given the power and the funds to do the job.

My second point is on education. The question of training has been mentioned. Is it not usual that one has to have a training and some kind of preliminary knowledge of the jobs that one may be expected to do in life in the ordinary course of the school curriculum? Yet the most difficult job that most of us have had to face in life is that of carrying on a marriage successfully. The divorce rate has been mentioned. Is it too much to ask that in the Family Year in this country, and, one hopes, in every country, at least in the sixth form, something of the training necessary for the relationship between husband and wife and on being a parent, even if it has to be in a preliminary form, is taught in our schools?

My third point is to do with the statistics which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, gave so forcefully in her speech. On the question of divorce and unhappy children as a result of divorce, may we see during the Family Year the family court? So many noble Lords — and perhaps I may include myself— have been pleading for that family court for many years. It would be one place in which children and parents could be dealt with from the start of the trouble— and we hope at an early stage ending the trouble— until after a divorce and the question of the children has been attended to, with conciliation all along the line. As we all know, at present different aspects are being dealt with in different courts by different judges and different registrars with different people dealing with conciliation. May we see a family court?

My last point may be one that does not register in the hearts of all noble Lords. Could we see a little less of licence in our adoration of the principle of freedom? By that I mean that, while they may be old-fashioned, could some of the old disciplines come back into our family life and our general life? It would be for our good and our children's good.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his kind personal reference to me. I also thank your Lordships for the impression I received of a wave of silent sympathy for what he said about me. I am glad to take part in the discussion today and I am grateful, therefore, to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for her Motion which I support. I am not quite sure that I shall be able to be as forceful and concise as I would wish, but I am glad of the discipline of the Clock.

I rejoice and marvel that the normally arcane procedures of the usual channels have succeeded in putting the subject on the Order Paper today. I believe that there could be no more important issue for this House, this country, or indeed any country, than the state of the family. I therefore welcome the Motion. I shall spend more time studying the United Nations report. I should be surprised if it was dominated by changes in economic policy which the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, recommended should be the Government's reaction to the United Nations Year of the Family.

What the noble Baroness advocated was that the Government should flinch from those economic decisions which they judge to be necessary if this country is to remain as internationally competitive as it is now. I must say to the noble Baroness that it would be no kindness to the family or to anyone else if the government of the day, whatever its colour, were to refrain from the difficult economic policies that are needed to improve or maintain our international competitiveness and as a result to allow either inflation or unemployment to increase.

I shall not use precious time decrying any part of the noble Baroness's speech. But I was disappointed that she seems to hanker for a return to the very high personal taxation which, when reduced later by a Tory Government, led to the position of what she described as "the rich growing richer". That resulted only from the fact of taxation on high earnings rising to the 90 per cent. level under a Labour Government. It was a policy of recklessly high taxation, one which has led in Sweden to the emigration of the wealth and job creators of that country and one which, if we returned to it in this country, would make our economic plight even worse.

I should like to echo the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in welcoming the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. It was a most convincingly self-confident and fluent performance. It touched on matters of high sentiment, and introduced of course the undoubted and indispensable part that the Churches have to play in family integrity and family strength. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel that he did himself and his cause justice by the way in which he spoke to us this afternoon. I for one was very impressed. He showed no trace of nervousness, nor any trace of uncertainty, in the firm way in which he dealt with the Motion. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of this House when I say that I hope that we shall very often hear from him in the future.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I am one who believes that the United Nations report should have referred— and I shall scour it to see whether it does— to the much more difficult matters which lie behind the health of the family. Of course economic issues are important. But the House will not be surprised to hear me return to a subject on which I have taken its time before; namely, the quality of parenting, upon which a great deal depends. It is not something that governments can bring about by legislation, or indeed by any method within their power. It is upon the quality of parenting that many of the issues that preoccupy government— for example, rising crime and school standards— depend.

In a way I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, did not simply say casually that we need good parenting. Of course we do. But just as with improved standards in education, it is one thing to aspire, and quite a different thing to bring about the improvement in schools or parenting that probably in one way or another we all strongly desire.

At one time there was a potential large rift between the parties in this House on the composition of the family, to which the United Nations report so rightly refers. There were those among my noble friends in the Conservative Party who were vociferously led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in support of marriage as the basis of a healthy family life. At one time I got the impression that the Labour Party had only to establish what the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, supported in order to decide to support the opposite point of view. In this case, had this debate occurred one or two years ago, we might have had the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, arguing that the lone parent family was quite as good for parenting and for the development of children as the family based on marriage. We have no need to waste time and energy on that argument today. I believe that the rift between the parties may have been healed.

Before I come to that point, I should like to say how grateful I was to my noble friend Lady Young for rehearsing the sombre statistics of family instability today. We live at a time when the number of marriages each year is about equalled in many years by the number of divorces. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, reminded us how much child unhappiness divorce may cause. We also know that our birth rate is well below the net reproduction ratio and that, of the smaller than ideal number of births that occur, a substantial and rising proportion each year turn out to have been out of wedlock. In a recent year the proportion rose to two-thirds.

The rift has, I hope, been healed because of an initiative taken by the health and welfare unit of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The health and welfare unit convened a colloquium of people of both parties who were interested in family matters. I had the good fortune to attend. Out of the colloquium came a booklet which I heartily commend to noble Lords called Families without fatherhood. It is published by the IEA. The writers of the booklet are Norman Dennis and George Erdos, and an introduction is written by an Oxford professor of sociology, Professor Halsey, who was for some years adviser on social policy to the Labour Party. In the booklet and in the introduction those three contributors describe themselves— it is not my description but theirs— as "ethical socialists". The booklet is about family matters and rehearses some of the issues that we are discussing today.

It emphasises the importance of what that great lady Mia Kelner Pringle used to describe as "good enough parenting". If any noble Lord wishes to know what good enough parenting is, although I am no authority I understand it to mean the consistent combination of love and discipline from parents to the children. Love alone, though indispensable, is not enough. There has to be an element of discipline. The mixture of love and discipline has ideally to be consistent.

I remind the House that it was a French 18th century sociologist who drew most vividly the picture that we face, on behalf not just of one country but the whole world. He used to write of the globe being invaded each year by about 10 million uncivilised barbarians. He was speaking unemotionally of babies ! He emphasised how much those babies needed to be trained before they could be fit and suitable members of tolerant, peaceable and orderly societies. The job of parents is immensely difficult. Children need to be trained in mutual respect, self-discipline and tolerance, which are not automatically easy accomplishments.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend but the timed debate allows him only nine minutes to speak and he has already reached the 13th minute. Despite his extremely interesting speech, he is going into time that other noble Lords may require.

Lord Joseph

Tie reminder is entirely proper. I shall cut my speech as much as I can. I must point out that extra money will rot solve the problem. More money for parents will not in itself produce good enough parenting. I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, did not advocate, as it were, a facile financial solution to the problems of the family.

I suggest to the House that there is something that can be done by the Community to help parents provide good enough parenting. It is the province of a relatively new charity called Home Start. I have spoken before to the House about that charity. It is not the family alone that can provide good enough parenting. The children need to be under the influence of the Churches and the schools, which are both components of their uprearing. We were all encouraged to hear the right reverend Prelate pledge the support of the Churches for the work of families.

I am ashamed to confess that the Conservative Party in recent years has nibbled at the tax concessions available to a married couple. I believe that good enough parenting is made harder if family incomes are squeezed too much. Therefore I regret that a Conservative Government should approve Budgets that nibble at marriage allowance. Indeed, I urge my honourable friends in another place who voted for those erosions, to reconsider. Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and other speakers I urge that the interests of the family should be considered in all legislation. I ask the noble Lord the Minister of State at the Home Office to bear in mind the support of families in distress that is provided by the charity Home Start, of which I spoke briefly.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend will have to conclude his speech. He has gone well over time. This is a timed debate and he must conclude his remarks.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I entirely support the noble Baroness's Motion and I am grateful for the courtesy of the House to me.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Dacre

My Lords, I am ashamed to say that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for many years and it is only now that I rise to make my maiden speech. Noble Lords may well ask why I have waited so long. Let me give two reasons. First, I wished to be with my husband who was a playwright and, I felt, needed me more than this House. Secondly, I was too scared to make that speech. The latter reason still stands today.

The debate is about our support for the family in the United Kingdom. That is something which means a great deal to me, to this House, I hope, and to the country at large. There is wide concern about a breakdown in family values and the very fabric of the family.

I come from a family in which relationships have meant a great deal, perhaps more than anything else. Mine was a small family because of sad circumstances. There was just my sister and myself. Nonetheless, it was a very happy one. My parents set an example of love for each other and caring for us. As we grew up we had great freedom. But somehow, by their example, we had firm guidelines about what was right or wrong. I cannot say that we did not stray from those paths from time to time, because we did. But we respected the guidelines and came back to them.

Those family values have helped me all through my life. So, in a way, I stand up today to pay tribute to my parents and to thank them for the great happiness that they gave me and the strength and security that they provided for me— which we all need in our early lives.

I suggest very humbly to your Lordships that we address ourselves to the reason why today we feel that the very substance of the family is at risk. Perhaps we should return to the traditional start of a family: the marriage of two people. Could it be that the vows that they make are not taken seriously enough or even thought of at all? I fear that in many cases marriage is performed only for the reception afterwards and that the real meaning of the ceremony itself is drowned in a sea of champagne and speeches.

I do not know the statistics of families in which there has been a divorce. However, I do not need statistics to realise the effect of divorce on the children of the marriage. I can see it around me and all too often. I feel that the vows must have been forgotten. I should like to remind your Lordships of them now. I take my example from the Church of England service. These are the words of the husband to be:

I take thee to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth". What wonderful words they are, and how binding they should be!

Could the fault be that of the Church or does it lie with the parents when there is a breakdown? We must do our best to remedy it. I was lucky to have had a very happy marriage. Truly, I can say that it was founded on those vows. They helped my husband and me to remain faithful and true to each other. I do not want to sound censorious about divorce, but I know that in some cases parents are so incompatible that it would be to the detriment of that family if they were to remain together. But sometimes they part for a selfish reason— their own unhappiness. If, for the sake of the children, they were to remain together and bear that unhappiness, the saving of that marriage for their children's sake would become more important than their original unhappiness.

So I am for encouraging couples to remain together before separating and, sadly, eventually divorcing. In fact, I should like to see divorce harder to come by than it is today. To encourage a family to be together and happy I should like to see more benefit money going to parents to encourage one or other to stay at home to care for their children in those important early years. I know that there are calls for more money for nursery schools, but I feel that the reason for that necessity is that parents cannot afford to be at home with their children and have to go out to earn. Nothing can replace the early teaching of a parent and there are plenty of would-be good parents about if one of them could afford to be at home.

I quote two lines from John Masefield's poem The Everlasting Mercy: And he who gives a child a home Builds palaces in Kingdom come". I have four children and from them I have great hope for the future, and from their friends. I feel that they are returning to those values and I like to think that that will help them as it helped me.

Finally, I know that I could not have managed my life after the death of my husband without the help of my children. So in good times and in bad times it is important to have a united family to sustain you. Long live the family !

4.21 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, it is my pleasure on behalf of your Lordships to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, on her maiden speech. As she indicated, we have had to wait a long time to hear her but I hope that the way in which she spoke today will encourage her to speak on many other occasions. In order to encourage her to do that perhaps we need more debates on the family. The speeches today indicate what an excellent subject it is.

As my noble friend Lady Dean said, families differ in different parts of the world and from generation to generation in our own country. Changes in the family in part reflect the changes in society and, equally in part, they accelerate those changes. Nevertheless, the family is still the most important basic unit within our society, but it has changed and is changing. It seems to me that there is no point in expecting the family ever again to be as it was in our own childhood. We must look at it as it is now and as it is developing and try to find ways and means of supporting and strengthening the family in today's environment.

One of the major changes that has taken place within the family is women's economic position, and I should like to concentrate my remarks on that this afternoon. Within the family the woman is no longer entirely dependent on her husband, but is herself a major and important contributor to the breadwinning for the family. Women now form approximately 50 per cent. of the labour force. Over the past 20 years the number of married women in employment increased by almost 50 per cent. In 1991,59 per cent. of mothers in the United Kingdom were economically active. Moreover, the percentage of working women with pre-school age children virtually doubled from 24 per cent. in 1981 to 42 per cent. in 1991. The majority of those mothers work part time. But the percentage of those working full time also increased in that period from 6 per cent. in 1981 to 13 per cent. in 1991. We must recognise that that trend is likely to continue.

Despite that major change in employment, there has been no equivalent major change in work patterns. Of course, there have been some adjustments; but basically employment is still geared to the male norms of full-time work and work being regarded as the first priority in life. Women have had to adapt to fit into that pattern as best they can. That often resulted in their occupying positions in employment well below their potential or occupational qualifications, with an accompanying downgrading of pay and provision for retirement. That is a contributory factor to women's hourly pay being only 78 per cent. of men's hourly pay. In other words, the needs of the family have not been built into the employment system in the way that they were built into it when men were regarded as the sole bread winner and women as the home makers.

Inevitably, there are differences in the work patterns of men and women and they need to be catered for. However, I would point out that men are beginning— albeit slowly— to take an increasing share in family responsibility within the home and that too needs to be catered for in our system. So what are the needs of the family vis a vis employment? They can be divided into two groups— women's needs and joint parental and family needs.

When we look at women's needs the pattern of women's employment changes when women become pregnant and have their first child. Therefore, maternity provision is essential. We discussed that subject at some length in recent debates on employment legislation. We talked of the quality and complexity of the present statutory maternity provisions in the United Kingdom. I therefore remind your Lordships that many of us believe that maternity provision is far from satisfactory and needs to be reconsidered.

Secondly, so long as mothers are regarded as the major carers they need more flexible work patterns made available to them. The present deregulated system of low paid, unprotected, part-time work is not the answer and is unacceptable if we are to recognise the needs— financial and caring— of the family. Some firms, but only a small proportion, offer women the possibility of returning to their current job, after maternity leave, on a part-time basis. Some 2 per cent. of private sector employers and 10 per cent. of public sector employers are prepared to offer part-time or job sharing opportunities to women returning after maternity leave. But all women returning to work after maternity leave need the option of part-time work with the same terms and conditions of employment available, but on a pro rata basis.

Thirdly, for those women who want to remain at home while their children are young— that is a right that should be available to them— help should be provided at the time of returning to work. Those women probably need reskilling either in their previous profession or type of job, or in a completely new sphere. We must not ignore the enriching experience of child-bearing, child nurturing and caring, which often prompt women to seek a much more fulfilling career when they return to work. In its recent evidence to the Employment Committee in another place, the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended a national policy for retraining returners, which I commend to the Government for their attention.

When we look at joint parental and family needs the first thing that comes to mind is childcare provision. That is really the first essential which applies to the needs of women and men. A survey undertaken for maternity rights indicated that 50 per cent. of the mothers interviewed said that the lack of affordable childcare was the biggest barrier to returning to work. Again, the Equal Opportunities Commission has made recommendations about that, together with the employers' group, Employers for Childcare, and others, who are recommending the Government to develop a national strategy for childcare. The national strategy would not only include nurseries, nursery education and after school care, but should also look at the problems of flexibility in employment.

For governments there would be long-term benefits for the Treasury in that there would be savings involved as well as additional income from an increasing number of tax payers and in national insurance contributions. Employers recognise that there would be economic benefits for them, too. For the family there would be tremendous benefits through quality care of children, plus the enrichment of family life.

4.31 p.m.

Baroness perry of Southwark

My Lords, I am pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, in her Motion this afternoon. I am pleased to speak as an unashamed advocate for the family. The noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, in her excellent maiden speech, has reminded us of the enormous value of the family to each of us as individuals. It is perhaps there that the importance of the family within the structure of society is most clearly revealed because it is within the family that we learn our values, a sense of our own selves, how to love and how to be loved.

We learn also of course how to deal with the conflicts and hostilities in sibling rivalry, the generation gap, arguments and other tensions which naturally arise. How much more easy it is, however, to learn how to deal with tensions and rivalries within the loving environment of a family than it is to try to deal with them in the cold and alien adult world. As other noble Lords have said, the family of course has changed and adapted much over generations past and it perhaps faces now more of an urgent need to change and adapt than at any time in its history.

When I say that I am an advocate of the family in its traditional sense, I recognise that I speak as one deeply blessed to be now in the 42nd year of a very good and happy marriage. But I have watched my children and their friends, as many other noble Lords have done, wrestle with the much more complex world of relationships in their generation, where the institutions of marriage and the family have been severely under attack.

Marriage itself is being attacked as an institution which denies the freedom of the individual; usually the freedom of the woman. But freedom of course is not an absolute. The freedom of each of us as individuals is limited by the necessary freedoms of others. It is important for us all to recognise that our own freedom must be exercised within the network and framework of our families and our society.

I was very touched at being asked by one of my children's young friends, now 20 years of age: "How do you account for the success of your marriage? How come that you knew, magically,40 odd years ago, that you could be in love for life?". I felt very touched by such a question. My reply — inadequate as it was— was, "You don't know. When you fall in love arid marry you do not know that you are going to love somebody for life. You know that you love them then and you work daily after that to make it last for life".

Because I believe in the family as a basic building block of a healthy society does not mean that I am anxious to indulge in any witch-hunt against those who are unable to conform to that pattern. If we, as individuals or as a nation, are trying to regain our moral high ground, we must remember that the moral high ground includes tolerance and compassion — virtues which are all too often forgotten as people leap to one side or the other of an argument.

My aim is not to attack those living in different patterns, but to ask how we can establish a social and legal framework which will help to support the family as the majority choice of the young people now entering their 20s and 30s. It is my belief, from personal experience as well as from various surveys which have been done, that the vast majority of single parents would like to be within a family unit. They are not where they are by choice. Most of them are in that situation because they had no other alternative; because of the breakdown of relationships.

As others have said, marriage in this country is still a very popular option. We have the highest rate of marriage in the European Community. Unfortunately, we are the second highest as regards divorce arid that too has been mentioned by other noble Lords. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves questions as to why the traditional family is so much under attack.

I would like to address three areas which I believe are good in themselves, but which have deeply threatened the structure of the family in our present society. First, there are the biological advances. It seems to me to be an immensely important part of human identity that children should be of a known pair or biological parents. I find the current debate about extracting embryos from dead foetuses an alarming one indeed. I do not believe that it helps for a child to grow up with no known mother who never lived herself. Having watched one of my friends search desperately for her biological mother after a very happy 30 years being an adopted child, I have learnt from personal experience how desperately important the search for that biological identity can be for many individuals.

Again, artificial insemination is a great blessing to many. Nevertheless, figures from the United States estimate that by the end of this century— that is, the next six years— 1.5 million Americans will have been born by artificial insemination; two-thirds of them born to single mothers. As my noble friend Lady Young has said, that tends to make me ask: Are we saying now that men as fathers are redundant? Are we no longer to offer children the value of a father as well as a mother?

The second reason which has provided a problem for the modern family is one which it is difficult for me to say. But undoubtedly the changing position and aspirations of women have created great strains within the family. I do not believe that we need to return to the pattern of the family where its stability and strength rested on the self-immolation of the mother who gave up her own aspirations and interests in the world outside in order to hold the family together. Modern feminism and modern women are no longer concerned with an irrational pursuit of some kind of self-sufficiency at the expense of others, nor is there any great satisfaction any longer among modern women in competitive and aggressive competition with men out in the market place.

I believe that women today are seeking a partnership with men both in their homes, in the sharing of tasks in the home, and in working life. Surely, when God made both men and women he intended us to use the strengths of both, privately and publicly, in the market place and in the family. Somehow we must create a structure and support within our society which allows that partnership to be real.

I am tempted for a moment to be light-hearted and say how nice it is that we have achieved what is very unusual and perhaps unique; namely, an almost exact mathematical division between male and female speakers in the House today.

The third area is one which again depends on the biological advances in birth control which have created the unexpected changes in sexual morality which we have all seen. Surely we are not saying to young people that there is no more to them than a set of biological spare parts? Surely we are not saying that the reasons for loyalty and commitment to a lifelong relationship rested in the past purely on the risks of unwanted pregnancy? Is there no more to human relationships than that?

While I believe that there is much to be done, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me say that it is to our educational system that we must look for solutions for the generations coming up towards their decision-making era. After parents, teachers are probably the most important influences on the lives of young people. I believe that they must accept that they have as role models a very important influence to bear on the way in which young people think about relationships, marriage and the family. They must do this with the respect of the public outside. We cannot expect young people to respect their teachers if we, as parents and members of society, fail to give teachers the respect and support which they need if they are to fulfil their roles properly.

Most of all, I believe that it is vitally important that teachers recognise that part of their job is to give a sense of moral values to children. I find it distressing that we hear from HMI in its recent report that in only a small minority of schools was the spiritual and moral development of pupils promoted consistently, and, that in one-quarter of secondary schools the promotion of moral and spiritual values was unsatisfactory. Surely we must look to education better to support this most important issue of family values.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, in her very valuable opening speech, naturally took as a springboard the International Year of the Family. We must remember that there are other types of families than those in our own society. There is the extended family, which the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, mentioned, and the polygamous family, but the noble Baroness rightly switched our attention to the type of family for which we have responsibility— the monogamous, lifelong partnership of a man and a woman with the aim, in general, of bringing up a family.

Your Lordships will, I hope, understand, with such a very big subject, that I am confining myself to the responsibility of the law for such a family. It demands our asking: what is the value of such a society? First, it is a body within which the necessary and inevitable division of labour can take place because it is women who suffer economic disadvantage by nine months of fatigue and nausea, terminated by hours of peril and pain. It was claimed at one time by politicians that the state should ensure that there should be from each what he could contribute and to each what he needed. That has proved disastrously wrong on a national scale, but it is the sort of thing that can be done within the family. It is one of the advantages of the family that it enables that very high ideal to be consummated.

However, where there is a division of labour, there is inevitably inequity and an obligation to see that the fruits of that labour are divided equitably between the people concerned— in our case, the husband and wife. Our present law falls very short in that respect. When we recently debated the Child Support Act and its repercussions, we were reminded of what was said at the time of the Divorce Reform Act 1969. That was repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, last week; namely, that there are very few men in this county who are affluent enough to support two families and that as soon as one brings two families into existence, both are liable to fall to the level of poverty. That has happened repeatedly when people have been made single parents by divorce.

I have dealt rather aridly, I know, with the social purpose of marriage and the family, but we must remember that the human side is of equal, if not greater, importance. Your Lordships will remember the lines from Shakespeare: He is the half part of a blessed man, Left to be finished by such as she; And she a fair divided excellence, Whose fulness of perfection lies in him". That is another side of the family which we should not forget.

There is yet another aspect of the family, called by Ferdinand Mount "the subversive family"; namely, that the family is one of the strongest intermediate institutions between the state and the private individual, protecting or buffering the private individual from the overweening power of the state.

I turn now to the two legal problems with which I want to deal. The first is the question of termination of marriage. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, gave the statistics, and they do not need repeating. They show the disastrous effect (if one looks at the effect on the children) of what happened in 1969. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in introducing a debate on divorce quoted statistics showing that it is the breakdown of the marriage that does the real harm to the children. That was certainly my experience as a matrimonial judge. I found that children could deal with a good deal of turmoil but that it was in the actual moment of disruption that there appeared symptoms such as bed-wetting, speech disorders and a plummeting class performance.

The first question that should be asked when we consider termination of marriage is: do we really believe, as was claimed, that children come first or do we think that the wishes of the parents to be rid of each other, or even the wishes of one parent to throw off a spouse who has become irksome, come before that? Do we believe that children should come first?

The second question to which I want to address myself is that of finance and property. Surely it is wrong that a married woman who stands by her marriage is worse off proprietorially and financially than one who divorces. But that what our present law vouchsafes. I am in favour of community property, but we need not go so far. There are two Bills outstanding from the Law Commission— one on the shared matrimonial home and one on co-ownership of the matrimonial chattels within that home— the contents of which have found favour with a number of antipodean jurisdictions. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that there is an urgent necessity for a family court in which these problems can be solved.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Dean for introducing this subject and I congratulate the two maiden speakers on their excellent speeches.

The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, was unfair in saying that my noble friend had advocated the return to high marginal rates of taxation and all the horrors of the 1970s. `Why not?", as someone said — I shall come to that in a moment. I do not believe that my noble friend was making that point. She was pointing out that the considerable economic pressures which we have experienced during the past 14 years, resulting from the redistribution of income in favour of the rich, have caused problems.

High marginal rates of taxation are always bandied about but I wish to ask why no one is doing anything about the high rate of taxation which is paid by the poor. If a lone parent decides to go to work and makes more than £ 15 per week she will lose pound for pound in benefits. We have tolerated 100 per cent. marginal rates of taxation for the poor and complained about 87 per cent. marginal rates of taxation for the rich. Somehow we believe that high marginal rates of taxation are an incentive for the poor to work and a disincentive for the rich. That is an anti-family policy. We should he doing something to encourage and assist lone parents or anyone who wishes to return to work. In that respect our tax system is anti-family.

No matter what anyone says in pontificating about the family, there is another respect in which our fiscal system is anti-family. Typically in all the entitlements that we receive, the principal claimant receives, say. £ 50 but the live-in partner does not receive an equal amount. That person receives only 60 per cent. The system provides an incentive for any lone parent not to have the spouse around because the spouse may cost more than the extra payment. Indeed, it would be expensive for a woman to have a man around because the extra money received would not meet the cost of feeding him.

As my noble friend Lady Lockwood said, the welfare state has decided that the normal pattern is of a full-time working man. However, we have also decided that the typical family must have built into it that inequality of benefits. The time has come radically to rethink the nature of our welfare state. Work will not be as normal as it used to be and many men will have frequent interrupted spells of work, as experienced by women. We must devise ways in which people can carry on and maintain a good standard of living, even when their working episodes are infrequent. If during a life cycle a person can pay back through taxation what he or she receives in entitlements we should be generous in benefits and not be niggardly and questioning, as is the welfare state.

As I have said on other occasions, we need a basic income guarantee— a citizen's income entitlement— for everyone. That will take care not only of single parents but of carers, people who experience episodic employment and so forth. While people may think that that is expensive, careful analysis will show that we waste a great deal of money in our inefficient and rather mean welfare state. A proper welfare state in which people can claim without continually having to prove their claim will substantially improve and eradicate the problems of poverty. It will also improve employment incentives. With a basic income guarantee there may be no need for a minimum wage; nor would we have to worry about the problem of the low number of claimants. Carers and lone parents fail to claim. At present we are setting up a welfare state which is niggardly, interfering and expensive.

We must have at heart the interests of the family, especially the children. Ultimately, the family is a device only for taking care of children and, if possible, of taking care of the elderly. We have shed caring for the elderly as we have gone along because we have adopted the nuclear family. However, we must still take care of our children and ensure that they do not suffer deprivation early in their lives. We have failed in that, as many noble Lords have said. If we are going to do anything about it we must rethink the basis on which people receive entitlements. If we are bold enough to consider a citizen's entitlement we will gain not only in family stability but in the most important aspect of all, which is the quality of life in this country.

4.56 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, as one who lives in Oxford, I offer my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I am sure that the people of his diocese will read his significant maiden speech with deep appreciation. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, for her contribution, which enhanced the debate.

I shall speak on family relationships, which is one of the three key aims and objectives of the International Year of the Family. I wish also to deal with the wider issue of relationships in this country and overseas. Of course, work, poverty and resources are important issues but personal relationships within a family and the relationship of the family within the community are the foundations of the International Year of the Family. In this country there has been a breakdown in the art of personal relationships, which involves understanding, tolerance and humour.

I wish to touch on the reflection of parents' personal relationships on the behaviour of their children. Research carried out by the Maudsley Hospital indicated that the relationship of parents with each other, or a personal problem of one parent, affects the behaviour, happiness and well-being of the children. It is fitting that today I should refer to a scheme in Oxford which is sponsored by the Rowntree Trust and in which the wife of the right reverend Prelate is involved. Young children of primary school age who show signs of unhappiness and disruptive behaviour are referred to a qualified team of workers who do not see the children but offer casework skills to the parents. It is found that often where there are strained relationships or where one parent has a personal problem the parents' strain is mirrored in the behaviour and happiness of the children. It is known as the family nurturing scheme. One of the assets of the scheme is that it involves early intervention in the family. I fear that that is greatly lacking today both in education and in social services.

The Rowntree Trust research also shows that children suffer greatly when the mother and father separate. Their loyalties are divided and one might say that a house divided is a house that falls.

How is it that the people of Europe on the whole love their children more than we do in this country? Why do the people of Europe and other lands regard grandparents, much beloved by the grandchildren, as close members of the family with whom they keep in constant touch?

I wish to speak also about relationships in public life. The Children Act 1989 laid down three principles: first, that the welfare of the child is paramount; secondly, that children are the prime responsibility of their parents; and thirdly, that all those involved in the care, health and education of children should work together. I dare to suggest that Part I of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, shortly to come before your Lordships' House, transgresses those principles.

What is the relationship between the three government departments dealing with children; namely, the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education? I refer to the Home Office's proposal to set up what one might call children's prisons for the few delinquent children aged 12 to 14 years. Such children must be dealt with, but I suggest that they should not be dealt with in the way proposed. When considering how to deal with those children it should be borne in mind that prison will not help. What will help are valuable personal relationships. Although no one will admit to it, I suggest that the relationships and contributions of partners in government are essential. I say no more.

I make one last point regarding the relationship between countries. Hearing about our Children Act 1989, the Hungarian Government invited a British social worker to help and advise them on the drafting of a children Bill in Hungary. I congratulate the social worker concerned and I congratulate the Know-how Fund which made that financially possible. The inter-relationship of countries for the well-being of families and their children must enrich the concept of the Year of the Family. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for this debate.

5.3 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, we are talking about the International Year of the Family. We should remember that the family means different things in different societies, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said. The attitudes of husbands to wives — in the case of Moslems, they can have four— wives to husbands, parents to children and children to parents may vary enormously. Therefore, we should not worry too much that the classic family of 2.4 children with dad in work and mum tending the home has gone. We must accept that lone-parent families now make up 19 per cent. of all families with children.

The proportion of births outside marriage has increased dramatically but the proportion of those births jointly registered by both parents increased from 46 per cent. in 1971 to 75 per cent. in 1991. Half are registered at the same address. That suggests that 50 per cent. of children born outside marriage were born to a cohabiting couple who were probably in a stable relationship. That is background.

I want to talk a about crime and the family; why some families produce delinquents; and what we as a society can do to ensure, as far as possible, that children are brought up to be happy and law-abiding.

The family matters. It is the quality of love, affection and care given to children which affects their future. The parents may be rich or poor, lone or together. But all the evidence— and there has been a lot— goes to prove that pre-school behavioural problems are the single best predictor of anti-social disorder in 11 year-olds and of delinquency at 15. Aggressive behaviour in primary schools has been linked to harsh early upbringing and hostile, abusive arid punitive treatment of children by parents. Can we influence the behaviour of those parents? There are steps which can be taken. First, to avert the risk of teenage pregnancies there must be proper personal, health and social development teaching in schools. We must make sure that that is not squeezed out by too rigid and prescriptive a curriculum. It was a mistake to remove teaching on abortion, contraception, HIV and AIDS from the compulsory science curriculum. Admittedly, teachers can discuss those matters in sex education lessons. But parents can withdraw their children from those lessons. They may be just the children who need them most.

We all know that poverty, bad housing and unemployment are key factors in creating problems which are difficult to overcome. More support must be given to parents, who receive a lot of blame. In this country we pay mo-e attention to the needs of cars than children, and we pay almost no attention to the needs of ordinary parents. Health visitors carry out a vitally important job giving support to mothers in the first few months of a child's life. After that, there is almost no support available for most parents. They are left to fend for themselves.

Play groups and toy libraries are a lifeline for many mothers but they do not exist in all parts of the country, and struggle to survive from one jumble sale to another. Some local authorities offer support to parents. I shall give a few examples. Parent Link is a course run by and for parents which enables them to improve their skills in communicating with children, dealing with difficult behaviour, resolving conflicts and preventing minor issues turning into major problems. Parents say that that has changed their lives.

The City Lit Adult Education Centre works with parents at several local schools, developing skills and confidence which will help their children learn. Some go on to gain qualifications which improve their own career prospects as well as those of their children. Thousands of primary schools now have schemes to encourage parents to help their children with reading, maths and even science. But most teachers do not have the time or training to involve parents while many feel excluded or mystified by what goes on in school. They need specific advice and help money for a few extra teachers to cope with that situation would be money well spent:. All initial teacher-training courses should include a component on working with parents.

The support and encouragement that children receive at home is by far the most important factor in education achievement at school. Active parental support for learning at home outweighs social class, family income, ethnic origin or even quality of schooling as the most common characteristic of success in later life. As children spend less than 15 per cent. of their waking time in school, the remaining 85 per cent. is spent with parents or relatives. It would seem sensible to spend rather more on helping parents to prepare and cope with that expanse of time.

Crime and the Family is a document produced by the Family Policies Study Centre. It contains many excellent examples of family preservation programmes which can help the parents with guidance in their homes on home management, money management and so on. Home Start, one scheme referred to by my noble friend Lord Joseph, uses trained volunteers to offer friendship and practical support to more than 7,000 families, including over 13,000 children under five. That includes over 1,000 children whose names appear in child protection registers.

New Pin— the New Parent Infant Network— is a voluntary agency set up in 1981 in south London in response to high local levels of child abuse. There: are now eight projects in London, Gravesend and Bristol.

There are interesting projects taking place in a other parts of the country; for example, Leeds, Manchester, North Tyneside and Rochdale— mostly Labour controlled authorities. They are fulfilling the prevention duties imposed upon them by the Children Act 1989.

The need for proper nursery schools and classes has been discussed fully in two recent debates. I hope that we can persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that 51 per cent. of three and four year-olds in nursery classes is not good enough. I congratulate the Home Office for funding four experimental nursery classes in Lewisham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne to be run by High/Scope UK.

It seems to me that the cost of providing some nursery education is trivial compared with what the Government seem determined to spend on imprisoning 12 and 14 year-olds in five centres in different regions of the country, a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, referred. That proposal in the Criminal Justice Bill seems disastrous. Forty juveniles are to be incarcerated in each of the five centres. Sentence will be given for two years— that is, half to be spent in custody and half in the community. Many children sent to the centres will be far from their homes and families. That will make visiting hard or impossible at a time when contact with the family is all important.

We know that reconviction rates of those sent to custody are vastly higher (between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent.) than the rates of those dealt with in the community. The Bill estimates the cost to be in excess of £ 30 million per annum. The average cost of a secure training order is £ 1,500 a week. It will be an expensive and ineffective measure replicating the mistakes made in the 1960s and 1970s. To devote such large sums of money to such a measure at a time when resources for effective programmes of supervision in the community are being pegged back is wholly unjustifiable. Can the Minister say whether it is true that those children's prisons are to be built in the grounds of adult prisons?

As it is, the cost of administering the criminal justice system was more than £ 9 billion in 1992– 93. That is a 100 per cent. increase since 1978– 79. Yet the majority of crimes are never reported to the police (they are likely to be the family ones) and a very small minority are solved. Indeed,3 per cent. result in a known perpetrator being cautioned or prosecuted.

The case for an innovative strand of social crime prevention to stop children drifting into crime and to stop minor offenders turning into persistent adult criminals is overwhelming. It is the need for such help with families from really early on that I have been trying to urge today. It would give very good value for money.

5.11 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Mon

My Lords, I, too, express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for initiating the debate. This family campaign encompasses 97 countries.

The pandemic of HIV and AIDS is spread across the world. Some countries have a worse problem than others. It seems that in Britain our numbers are not so great as those in some other comparable countries. That may well be because of the health education promoted by the Government and voluntary agencies, which seems to have paid off. However, to every family, wherever it is, the special heartbreak and desperation of knowing that there is no cure is the same. The grieving for a loved one who dies of AIDS-related conditions is a family tragedy. At a conference in Amsterdam two years ago, with about 11,000 people in attendance from across the world, the whole realisation of the magnitude of that complicated killer virus was brought home. One African doctor told of a grandmother who had buried her son, daughter-in-law and 19 of her grandchildren all from AIDS-related conditions.

The three core themes for the year— namely, relationships, poverty and work— all embrace the families who have members who are HIV or who have AIDS. Understanding and compassion are what are needed. The Mildmay Mission Hospital in Hackney, which has a Christian foundation, has built a family wing for parents and children who have AIDS. Its aim is to give much needed support to families when they are too ill to cope at home.

The Roman Catholic Church issued a statement on celebrating the 1994 United Nations International Year of the Family on 1st January. Relating to friendship, it said: When people are caught up in destructive and hurtful situations they need the hand of friendship, not the sting of condemnation". This year is an opportunity to promote, everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire". We seem to have a growing number of suicides in our society. For every family that has had to cope with a member who has taken his own life it is a devastating final act with which to come to terms. The family is left wondering whether there was anything more that they could have done to prevent such an act of violence happening. The people left behind need a hand of friendship. Can the Minister say what research is being carried out on the causes of suicides, in the hope that families can be helped and more suicides prevented? The Samaritans cannot do it all alone.

There is so much to do to alleviate suffering in the family. When a mother dies leaving a husband and children because she has had breast cancer, the family can be traumatised. I wonder whether noble Lords are aware that one woman dies of breast cancer every 30 minutes in Britain. Britain has the highest breast cancer death rate in the world. During today's five-hour debate 10 women will have died in Britain from breast cancer. Why is that? Do we have good enough diagnostic standards throughout the country? Do women see cancer specialists early enough? Is the research being targeted in the right direction?

A happy healthy united family without problems should surely be the best solution for every society. Unfortunately, in most parts of the world the evil trade of illegal drugs and addictions of many different kinds shatter family life. Here in the UK there is an organisation called ADFAM. It is a voluntary agency for the families and friends of drug users. It has a helpline to give parents and family members accurate information. So often, the first port of call for parents is the general practitioner. Not all of them are sympathetic and very many are not informed or able to help.

ADFAM has found that the drug use of any individual affects at least two other people— his or her parents, partner, brothers, sisters or friends. There are no statistics available for the number of people in the UK who use drugs. Therefore, no statistics are available as regards how many family members are affected. But it is clear that drugs are more affordable and accessible to people than ever before. More people have the opportunity to experiment.

Drug use within the family can be a very distressing experience for all concerned. The stress involved in coping with someone close to you who is using drugs can sometimes lead to relationship breakdown as well as health, financial and legal problems. Families and friends of drug users are a very hidden and isolated set of carers and can often feel guilty, angry, isolated, stressed, powerless, not in control of the situation, depressed and panicky. Indeed, many crack up under the strain. Sometimes the parents turn to alcohol in order to make them feel as if they are coping, or to blank out the hopeless situation. Many worried mothers contact their GPs for help and have consequently been prescribed tranquillisers, with the potential for developing a dependency of their very own.

Addictions of different sorts break up marriages and families. The use of crack and cocaine is increasing. Many of the calls to the ADFAM national helpline about those drugs also concern violence and aggression. Calls to the helpline from parents worried about drug use of 11 to 14 year-olds increased markedly during 1993. It is never too young to start drug education.

Families and drug users suffer particularly in rural areas where there are often no services available. A service that is confidential and appropriate is what all families who have to fight such problems need. The expense to society in fighting drug-related crime is enormous; to the individual family the anxiety is also enormous.

I should like to mention a very important matter in today's debate. I refer to the difficulties faced by many families visiting a sick child in hospital. The emotional strain can be enormous. For many families this is compounded by the financial implications of lengthy journeys and arranging child care for other children in the family. The issue has been highlighted by the "Too Dear to Visit" campaign, which was initiated by two organisations, Contact a Family and Action for Sick Children. Both organisations are concerned with the welfare of children and their families. Their campaign has received all-party support and a not unsympathetic response from the Minister in another place. Many people hope this is an issue to which the Government might respond positively as one way of marking the year of the family.

I refer in this context to a young boy from Essex who has Batten's disease and needs a bone marrow transplant. When the Westminster Children's Hospital in London closed down he was transferred to the largest unit in the country at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children. The parents incur huge costs in visiting him. An unemployed couple from Devon accumulated debts of £ 1,500 through visiting their sick son in London. In Dorset a family incurred debts of £ 1,000 visiting their two-year old daughter who required heart surgery. Many such cases came to light. When Action for Sick Children carried out research into visiting costs, it found that nearly 6 per cent. of families get into debt as a result of hospital visiting and that over 25 per cent. wished to visit their children more often. Health professionals, parents and the Government accept the importance of visiting. A Department of Health circular, Welfare of Children and Young People in Hospital issued in 1991 states: A cardinal princip1e of hospital services for children is complete ease of access to the child by his or her parent". This is not a luxury. It is now generally accepted that the care and comfort that parents provide is fundamental to the care and treatment of children in hospital.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the whole House, and indeed the nation, owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for her introduction to the debate. We have already heard some interesting contributions this afternoon and I am sure we shall hear some more later on. I was particularly interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who raised a philosophical question. I believe he was asking, in effect, whether we wanted economic advantage or whether we wished to support the family. That raises the question of the value we place on the role of women as housewives and mothers, or whether we consider they contribute more to society by going out to work. The work of housewives and mothers is valuable.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, suggested that not many men can afford to pay for two families. It is interesting to note that it appears to be assumed that men, after divorce, will remarry and start a new family whereas women will raise children on their own. What logic is there to suggest that that is a sensible way of carrying on? Why do not single mothers find a new husband to help them with their families? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, also stated, I believe quite clearly, that women are better off financially when they are divorced than when they are married. Surely we must operate a fairly crazy society if that is the case and we create financial incentives for divorce and separation. That can do the family, and therefore society, no good at all.

The document which I believe we have all received on this matter states that we cannot define the family because of the different make-up of the households that exist in Britain today. However, I thought it would be useful to try to define the family and to look at the historical perspective over the past 100 years or so, and to link family stability with economic security. I wished to try to identify some of the causes of economic insecurity and to suggest what we can do to ensure a better future. I tried to find a definition of the word "family" in a dictionary. The family was defined as, A primary social group consisting of parents and their offspring, the principal function of which is the provision of its members". I think that is a good definition.

As regards the historical perspective of this matter, if we look at the married population as a percentage of the adult population for England and Wales over the past 100 years, we can see that between 1945 and 1975 there was a high proportion of married people and that there was a low proportion from the 1890s up to 1945 and from 1975 onwards. These figures link the incidence of marriage with economic security, particularly of men, during the period from 1945 to 1975. That period was unparalleled in British history. It was a period when the prevailing political consensus aspired to fun employment. In that period every government of whatever hue aspired to full employment and to improving housing conditions. That process gave economic security to people and in that context men and women had the confidence to marry and have children. They had the confidence to become members of families.

Family stability is heavily dependent on economic security. Nothing damages the family more than economic insecurity, and particularly the loss of a job and consequent unemployment for the family breadwinner. Redundancy hits in two ways. It causes significant reductions in living standards, not only for the person made redundant but also for his family, and it also damages the self-respect that is so important for an individual in maintaining stable relationships with other people. What causes redundancy and unemployment? I would argue that it arises as a result of the political consensus. As I have said before, from 1945 to 1975 the political consensus aspired to achieving full employment. Since 1975– 76 that consensus has changed and has broken down. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, referred to finance with regard to this subject. The concept of "sound money" has a fairly wide political hegemony.

The family will continue to be undermined as long as we do not value people. I would suggest that the best thing we as a society can do to support the family is to try to rebuild that political consensus that values everyone and that works to achieve full employment and in this way supports the family.

5.28 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and I are on opposite sides politically but we share common views on some cross-party issues. I am therefore particularly pleased that it is she who has initiated this welcome debate today. I also wish to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, on their excellent maiden contributions.

Perhaps we should begin by reminding ourselves that children growing up in a traditional, stable, two-parent family are, on average, healthier and do better both at school and later in their careers than those who, unfortunately, do not have the benefit of that background. It is the lack of that stable home, with two parents committed to the long-term welfare of the child, that contributes to many of the problems that later befall them.

The United Nations media pack tells us that the incidence of teenage unmarried mothers fell from 39 per cent. in 1971 to 28 per cent. in 1990. But what does it compare? Is there no difference between a young woman of say 19 in a stable relationship and a 14 year-old schoolgirl? The media pack reports that, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, there were 400,000 homeless people in 1990. As those figures are not convenient for the theories of the pamphleteer, it goes on to say: estimates suggest that the true figure is closer to 2 million". Where does that unsupported alternative figure come from? Let there be no mistake, one homeless family is one too many.

The media pack refers to the poverty level. In Britain a single parent on income support and other benefits receives more in a week than the average annual wage in some South American countries. Of course we are not discussing South America. In Britain we expect that our poor should have a standard of help that is consistent with that of a leading industrial country. However, it also has to be consistent with what can be afforded in the light of all the other calls on our resources.

Because those resources are not limitless, it is not wrong that we should ask people to help themselves so far as they can and so far as we can assist them to do so. It is not wrong to point out that the first place to look for a helping hand is at the end of one's own arm. It is not wrong for the Government to encourage people to help themselves. But it is also not right that obstacles should be put in the way of those who want to do so.

I refer to the so-called poverty trap, where a person is better off not working than in employment. I wonder whether the Treasury will ever understand that letting someone in that situation work without the Treasury clawing back income support pound for pound for every penny earned saves it money in the long run. That point is very similar to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The recent Budget gave a child care allowance of £ 28 to those on family credit who want to go to work. It is a good start, but it is not nearly enough.

Your Lordships are constitutionally constrained from discussing taxation matters, otherwise I would ask why there is still no child care relief for mothers who are not on family credit. My former secretary returned to work a few weeks after her child was born. A large slice of her salary goes on a child minder. She receives no tax relief. The state does not have to pay her family credit, and the child minder pays income tax. The Treasury is getting not two but three bites at that cherry.

I urge the Government to speed up the provision of nursery schools. Not only would that enable more single parents to go back to work, but it is beyond argument that nursery school benefits children all the way through their education. Labour councils claim, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, also told us, that they are ahead of the Conservatives in providing nursery school places. If that is true, we must do better. But it will not surprise your Lordships to know that there is a counter statistic. Britain starts children in school earlier and keeps them there longer than any other EC country except Holland.

Apart from young families, there are others who are often overlooked and neglected. I mean the old and the chronically sick. The United Nations media pack is some 13 pages long, but just five lines are devoted to carers and none at all to the aged and infirm. One of those wry Jewish proverbs says that one mother can look after 10 children, but 10 children cannot look after one mother. Resources will have to be found for a rapidly ageing population, many of whose families, however willing, simply do not have the facilities to accommodate them or to give them the physical support they will need.

There is also the problem of the chronically sick. There is nothing more draining than caring for a parent or other close relative who has degenerated into severe mental or physical disability. The carer's own health suffers. A third of carers receive no physical help or support. Many never even have a break. Half of them suffer financial problems because they have to stay at home instead of going to work. To qualify for the £ 33.70 a week invalid care allowance, carers have to put in a 35-hour week. That works out at 96 pence an hour. Some elderly carers receive nothing.

My husband and I have had to cope with such a situation on no fewer than five occasions. Fortunately, resources were available to take care of the invalids' physical well-being and for nursing at home. However, the experience showed me how essential it is for other less fortunate carers to be given the resources to obtain nursing help at home and the chance to have an occasional break from the never-ending demands and needs of the invalid.

I wish there were enough for everything and everybody. But, as there is not a limitless amount of money available, I hope that those of your Lordships who will continue to speak about the needs of young families will remember also that there are others who also have claims. I mean the elderly without families to help them, and the chronically infirm and those who look after them; those who have given a lifetime at work, who have paid taxes for 50 years or more, and who now need not our charity but simply their fair share of our concern. We should be concerned about them also.

5.35 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I very much appreciated the contribution of my noble friend Lady Dean. It has led us into trying to match her skills, without always succeeding as well as she did.

I should like to begin by quoting the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister. In 1989, at the world summit on children she said: The well-being of children requires political action at the highest level. We make a solemn commitment to give priority to the rights of children". I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to replace the word "children", which is mentioned twice in that statement, with "the family". We shall be more than happy if he can give that undertaking.

Children make a family. While it is true to say that there are many happy families— fortunately more than there are families with problems— there are problems in families, as many noble Lords have said. Many families need support and help. We must not dismiss that group of people as an underclass. It should be recognised that their aspirations are common to us all; but often they simply have too little money to share the activities and possessions of everyday life enjoyed by the rest of the population.

Some people call those problem families. It is much easier to blame than to find solutions. Some families face a whole range of problems. There is a whole range of agencies, groups, organisations, charities and neighbours, friends and relations which try to help such families. Some of those people are very well known to me. I shall speak about the West Midlands because I know that part of the world better than any other.

The police protection units, which often have to deal with child abuse, take up families through station officers and try to offer help over and above the legal aspects. As part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the West Midlands Fire Service uses the drills and discipline of the fire service to teach young people to be fire fighters.

I am involved with the St. Basil's centre for the homeless. It is concerned with the rehabilitation of young homeless people. It is not an overnight soup kitchen. Sadly, many of the young people who come to us have suffered sexual abuse, which is a tragedy in itself. Many have also been in care. At some stage the problem has to be solved. Another charity with which I am involved, the NSPCC, is well known. There is a longstanding conference looking into the after care of children. The modern image is up to date: the man with the peaked cap known as the cruelty man has long disappeared.

Such agencies throughout the country are cooperating in the main with local authorities and with social services to achieve a cohesive background. I have referred to only a few that I know. Those charities and organisations— and not simply the larger organisations — are looking to be beneficiaries of the National Lottery.

Parents are under great stress, as many noble Lords have stated today. The stress is much greater than it was five years ago. It is noticeable in children. I am informed by the NSPCC that many parents with whom they deal admit to "going over the top", as they put it. One of the most difficult tasks is to find some way to alleviate the stress faced by families, in particular those who abuse their children. Perhaps I may make some suggestions. I believe that we ought to consider respite care for families. Perhaps residential schools or camps throughout the country could be used during school holidays for small family units under supervision so that they may obtain assistance. I visited recently a GPs' health centre. Not only were there three doctors working in the centre, and the nursing sister, but two small rooms were allocated to the voluntary agencies. The probation service representative came in one day a week; the representative from social services came in on another day. Very often the GP finds that the stress of the parent causes ill health and if one helps the stress one relieves the need for medication.

I draw a final point to your Lordships' attention. Many charities are taking up 0800 numbers, which means that it is easier to make a phone call, especially if one seeks to be helpful as a family friend or neighbour. Could the Post Office have boards displaying emergency numbers of various charities which can help in times of stress, together with hospital and doctors' surgery numbers?

As we all know, healthy relationships are crucial to the well-being of all families. Many speakers today have referred to unemployment and the poverty that arises from it. One may perhaps justly argue that the prime obstacle to the elimination of poverty lies in a Government economic system which at present is dedicated to the maintenance and increase of wealth among the already affluent. Perhaps we need to change the Government.

When I was a child we used to play a card game called "Happy Families". The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has today provided an opportunity for the Government to pick up some of the points raised and to increase the number of happy families in the country.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I wish to make only three short points. First, it is a tragedy that the Government's policy on the family has been so overlaid by criticism from the press and pressure groups that it appears to be losing a great deal of its momentum. In this International Year of the Family it is important that we take advantage of the opportunity to make real progress in supporting parents and in undertaking other work needed for the family. Public goodwill is not being effectively tapped by the Government at present. One of the reasons is that the Government have pinned their standard to the mast of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is not necessarily the ideal. It can be very claustrophobic both for parents and for children. I believe that it was Aldous Huxley who said that all children need two families: the one in which they normally live, and another one to go to when their parents get on their wick, or vice versa.

The facts have been ably presented by a number of noble Lords. I shall mention only briefly, for example, that 6 million people lived in step-families in 1991; 19 per cent. of families with dependent children were headed by a lone parent; 171,000 divorces took place; and 31 per cent. of children were born out of wedlock. No one knows how many children are now living in extended families. I was much encouraged by the statistic given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I congratulate him on his excellent speech. He stated that 32 per cent. of grandparents live less than one hour away from their families.

Those statistics indicate that the Government must acknowledge the diversity of families in our society today. I hope that that statement pleases the liberal establishment. However, I shall now say something that it will hate. We have to acknowledge also that not all those forms of family are equally good for children. I suggest that the good of the children must be the touchstone.

Secondly, the family should be regarded as a partnership. When two people agree to live together as a family, provided that they are within the law and both agree, they can do much as they like. But at the day and hour that a child is born, there is a new member of that partnership. The child is a powerless partner. Because the child is powerless and dependent, its needs and rights must have priority as regards both the physical and the emotional resources of the partnership. I make so bold as to say that parents who cannot accept that principle ought to consider seriously whether they ought to have children. A child is not a toy.

Perhaps we ought to consider the possibility of some changes in our public attitudes. For example, with more couples wishing both partners to have business careers, should we not have more respect for voluntary childlessness and regard it as a respectable alternative for those who wish to choose it? Conversely, ought not we as a society to give much more recognition to the importance of the role in society of parenting, both by men and women? Research shows that the quality of parenting substantially affects a child's happiness and future ability to contribute to society as an adult. The most powerful influence on the social behaviour of a child for good or ill is parenting.

Thirdly, because the child is a powerless and dependent partner, society has a responsibility to underpin its rights and needs. The Government have done much through the Children Act and the new dynamics in education, but there is an urgent need for a coherent and co-ordinated policy in this country for children and families. At present, children's affairs are influenced by no less than six or seven departments of state, by 135 local authorities, and by well over 150 voluntary organisations struggling to pick up the pieces and fill the gaps. They are doing their best, drowning in a difficult task and subject to inadequate funding. The result is a patchwork of provision, some of it very good indeed, but with enormous gaps.

I think that we have all agreed this afternoon that in this country we have a serious deficit in parenting skills. It is a threat to our children and to our society. In passing, perhaps I may give a little plug: I urge anyone interested in the subject to join the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parenting. In my view, we need to press for a single Minister to be responsible for, to answer at the Dispatch Box for, and to co-ordinate all policies relating to children and their families, so that, as the noble Baroness who introduced the debate said, all policies can be tested against the criterion of their effect on the family. So I call upon the Government to make a commitment to develop a clear, coherent policy for children and families, and to do so soon.

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

In a debate like this, it is easy to moralise. I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lady Dean on her robust and, above all, concrete opening speech. I thought it would not be long before someone referred to traditional family values and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, duly obliged. But we must define our terms. For example, I do not suppose that she intended to mean Victorian family values which were based on a society in which women were hog-tied to the home by lack of property and voting rights, and in which a rising tide of venereal disease threatened the nation's health, as the Victorian husband sought relief from his marital morality with the prostitutes. No. At least let us be thankful that today we have a more open society.

I am the first to regret the break-up of any family life because I know how greatly I am indebted to the rich one that I had myself. I know how much my great-nephews and great-nieces are indebted to theirs — fine young men and women with none of the problems which plague so many families. But then, we were privileged, we had a home, we had a job, we had an income, we had good health, good food, a good education and an interesting career. What we have to do, if we really care about family values, is to try our best to create practical props to family life which will enable more families to enjoy that kind of security.

When I was Secretary of State for Social Services, my experts and I got together to try to analyse what were the causes of family instability and how we could create a framework which would strengthen the family. Of course, one of the overwhelming causes of the problems is poverty. One of the main causes of poverty, we discovered, is that the wages system is not linked to the size of the family. It is no job of an employer to say: "How many children have you? Oh well, I'll give you a bigger wage". On the contrary, he might exploit the man who is driven to take any job because of the size of his family. The outstanding requirement, if we care about family stability, is a good, solid system of child benefit. I am proud to have been able to introduce that and get it through the House of Commons.

However, that reflects principles which have always been contested by our Conservative successors. The principles set out are that our duty is to fill the gap in child support which the wages system has left and, because it is necessary to give the mother a wage in her own right, by definition it must be a universal benefit. Those two principles are universal. They will not survive if they are fragmented by miserly bits of means-testing, which currently is what is under demand.

I am afraid that the Government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, did their best to destroy child benefit, first running it down by failing to inflation-proof it. Then, when the women of this country universally protested at the undermining of their right to a mother's wage, the Government back-tracked. Now they say that they will uprate child benefit annually during the lifetime of this Parliament. But the "No Turning Back" group— I do not mean the "Back to Basics" group; it all gets very confusing and perhaps it is better not to use the word "back"— is an Adam Smith coterie of people who have said in their latest pamphlet, Who benefits? that state benefits shotid be primarily for the poor, segregate them, humiliate them. The group says, having drawn up its alternative plar of action: "Oh well, ultimately the state may have no insurance system of its own at all". That is the challenge facing us when we look at the future of the family in this country. It is a fundamental challenge which this House ought to face.

The second cause of poverty which we analysed was insecurity in old age and widowhood. Families will not only grow old but they have older members of their family for whom they feel an obligation. We expect them to help and show sympathy to them. How can they do that when they themselves are on a low wage, battling to support older members of the family, who are on derisorily low pensions?

One of the main things we did at the outset was to say: "The annual uprating of pensions in line with prices is not enough to save old people on state benefits from poverty". Indeed, Mr. Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, actually said the other day that eventually, with the system of uprating only by prices, by the end of this decade the state benefit would be nugatory. That, from a Govemment spokesman. He, of course, has a solution to that— not to bring back the links which we introduced between the pension uprating and the level of earnings in the country. Oh no, it was to make people supplement a steadily shrinking state pension by private pension schemes. The effect is terrifying to contemplate: insecurity spread wider than it is now, not removed. Indeed, actuaries have pointed out that at the rate we are going, by the end of this decade state pensions, on the prices uprating, will be 4 per cent. of earnings. Four per cent. is equivalent to £ 14.60 a week at today's prices. TL at is the first point that anyone who cares about social stability in this country must face.

At the same time, we introduced the State-Earnings Related Pension Scheme— SERPS, a redistributive scheme. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, before he reaches for his great alarmist talk about 90 per cent. on income tax: that scheme is overwhelmingly financed by the contributions of employers and employees, with only a modest Treasury supplement.

The Government did not like that either. They did not want it because it gave women equal rights with men, not only in the state scheme but in occupational pension schemes. It gave widows better security than they had ever had in the lifetime of any of us. We were told that that, too, had to go. But, here again, there was a universal outcry, not only among the "cadging poor" but among the sensible middle class, at the destruction of such a sane and balanced contribution to security for everyone in old age. Therefore, instead of abolishing the scheme, the Government had to weaken it down. They have done so by taking away many of the gains for widows that we introduced. The Government's answer is: "You go private. Your security lies in personal pension schemes". The Government have already spent £ 4 billion bribing people to contract out of SERPS into a personal pension scheme. We have all seen the advertisements on television.

I have just noticed the time. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to give just one illustration, and then I shall sit down. Actuaries have worked out that in order simply to close the £ 40 gap between the present level of old age pension and what it will be by the end of the decade if we do not return to the earnings link, people would have to contribute £ 10 a week— that just to bring the state benefit back to what it is now. That is the prospect of insecurity and poverty with which so many families in this country are faced. Of course, under personal pension schemes 800,000 women would be no better off. It has been estimated that I million women would benefit to the tune of 50p a week. Let this debate be concrete. Let us stop moralising. Let us build a morally sound economy.

6.2 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for initiating this debate on the family— and for doing it so bravely and so well after a nasty attack of 'flu. The noble Baroness paid tribute to her own happy family background, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, in her charming, heartfelt and long-overdue maiden speech. I should like to pay tribute to mine: to my parents; grandmothers; great-uncles and great-aunts; uncle and aunts; brother and sisters; nieces and nephews; great-nephews and great-niece; my six children; my four grandchildren; and above all, to my husband, who, being descended from a saint who was known for his happy family life, Sir Thomas More, is a great argument for heredity.

I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on his warm, moving and funny maiden speech.

This is the Chinese year of the Dog. It is also the International Year of the Family, sponsored by the United Nations. I cannot think of a more basic theme for humanity. Since the days of Adam and Eve everyone in this world has been born into a family. Things may one day change in these times of genetic engineering. But it is still true that a child is physically created by a man and a woman. Spiritually, the child is a gift from God.

It may not be a very fashionable thing to say— and sadly for some people marriages do not work— but I believe in marriage. I should like to quote from the Book of Common Prayer: holy Matrimony … is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying … the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church … and therefore is … to be enterprised … reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained". I believe that marriage is the best formula for two people who love each other, live together and are committed to sharing their lives— though perhaps not their toothbrushes.

Last August, my husband and I and two other couples dined with my noble kinsman and clan chief and his wife on their wedding anniversary. We said that we had been married for 41 years. The second couple were able to trump us with 42. The third couple had been married for 51 years. But my noble kinsfolk were able to have the last word, with 59 years of loving. It was a very happy evening.

Like everything else in this world families change and grow. For a child there is nothing better in the whole world than to be brought up in a secure family with loving parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. Home is, after all is said, a place for sharing jokes, for making ends meet, for discussing problems among people who are always on your side, right or wrong, and for giving and receiving support. Everyone's home and everyone's family is different because people are different— and very dull the world would be if they were not. Communist and totalitarian states have tried to cut at the roots and destroy the family. But a healthy society is healthy because it is based on secure family units.

The Year of the Family aims to get governments to help families in three distinct areas; namely, families and work, families and poverty and families and relationships. It is right that we recognise that the family is the secure basis for civilisation. We believe in that on all sides of this House.

The Conservative Party— to which I am proud to belong— having been in office for some time, has during its tenure promoted the family in many ways. It introduced the 1989 Children Act and the 1993 Education Act. It has introduced grants and tax concessions. I believe that tax concessions should continue. It should be made more profitable to be married, to look after your own children, to keep them off the streets and to care for your own elderly relatives. Those are all things which the family does, and should do, best. Keeping people in family units is the best and most economical way of running a country.

Much has been said and written lately about moral unease, about scandals and about turning over stones. I believe that there are far more happy families about than one would suppose on reading the newspapers. Never mind the "B" words; let us go for "H": a healthy, happy society is one which puts a loving family home at its heart.

6.7 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, because of the time limit, I apologise to my noble friend and to the right reverend Prelate for cutting out the usual introductory pleasantries.

Like my noble friend Lord Monkswell, I believe that we need to look again at the definition of our subject, the family. It is in effect the domestic arrangement in which people live and within which children are nurtured and prepared for future citizenship. Technically, for the purposes of the census, the term simply refers to a group of people who share the same kitchen!

In fact, married couples with children still form the majority of families. Many would say that that is the ideal. But we have to live with reality. Some couples are not married and some are of the same sex. But they are all capable of providing loving, stable homes in which to bring up children— as I can testify from my own experience.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon reminded us that families also may contain old people; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford reminded us that there are many carers who need support from both voluntary and statutory agencies.

I should like to concentrate on the support system that is needed for families with children, and particularly those which face difficulties. If possible, of course, services should be so good that problems are nipped in the bud and subsequent unhappiness is prevented. Sadly, we are a long way from that happy state, and existing services have increasingly to deal with the dire effects of family friction and breakdown rather than helping families to survive, or at least helping them to part gracefully.

To my mind one good bit of legislation on the horizon is foreshadowed by the Government's Green Paper, Looking to the future— Mediation and the ground for divorce, in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor played a formative part. It proposes a one-year waiting period for all divorces, starting with an initial interview to receive counselling, mediation and advice on the law as it applies. The acrimony of fault-based divorces, which constitute three-quarters of the total number of divorces, will be drastically reduced. The recriminations involved in such divorces inevitably rub off on the children of the marriage and lead to future unhappiness. Far from making divorce easier, the reforms suggested will focus attention on parental responsibilities and the needs of children.

Like my noble friend Lord Mishcon, I should like to see the process of divorce dealt with by family courts. But the proposed changes are intelligent and take account of trends in society. Without trying, Canute-like, to change them, they attempt simply to improve the outcome. It is in fact very different from the hypocritical chuntering that we have been hearing recently about back to basics. Governments, if they have any influence at all on social trends, cannot change them by scolding or punitive legislation. Attempts to do so tend to backfire, as we have seen.

With regard to couples, I cannot praise too highly the work of Relate, which was formerly the Marriage Guidance Council, in helping them to be reconciled or at least to part with dignity. Many volunteers throughout the country are doing excellent work. I should like to hand them a compliment. I have worked with them frequently in my practice as a doctor.

I turn now briefly to the services available for parents and children in difficulties. A good primary health care team can often be very helpful. Sometimes the advice of an interested and sympathetic general practitioner is enough. More often than not, a well trained health visitor may act as the eyes and ears of the general practitioner, picking up trouble and intervening at an early stage. She may thus be able to prevent trouble in the future. In fact it is preventive mental health care in action. True primary prevention will come when prospective parents learn how to behave when taking the responsible steps of marriage and parenthood. Perhaps that will take place at school, as was suggested by many noble Lords, and obviously it comes from within happy and contented families. Unfortunately, we do not have that ideal in this country.

I am seriously concerned about the state of the Child, Family and Adolescent Psychiatric Services which, when working well, can play an enormous part in helping families to function better and can reduce later depression, anxiety or, even worse, mental ill health, drug and alcohol abuse and crime. A good child guidance centre consists of a multi-disciplinary team of child psychotherapists, psychiatric social workers, child psychiatrists and teachers. They should be available for referrals from other professions— general practitioners, health visitors, paediatricians and social workers or schools— and also be available for self-referral by families.

Earlier this month, on 3rd February, talking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, Professor John Pearce, who is professor of child psychiatry at Nottingham, said: There has … been a recent shift in emphasis: now the priority is trouble-shooting and crisis-intervention. The perception is of child protection, but this is all to do with picking up the pieces when disaster occurs rather than preventing it, and with identifying the risk but often leaving the child in the same place … In general there is a lack of knowledge about child mental health problems. Evidence exists that around 10% have significant mental health problems in adolescence. This figure is not significantly different from adults". At the same meeting Dr. Peter Wilson, director of Young Minds, amplified that statement by saying: John Pearce has given the figure of 10 per cent. Young Minds would broaden this to 20– 25 per cent. to take in the numbers of young people who need help beyond the capabilities of their families and the community. It is a very big problem". He went on to describe as a centre of excellence the Camberwell Child Guidance Centre, where Virginia Bottomley herself worked for six years as a psychiatric social worker. He said that in two months' time that well-known and highly respected practice would be decimated and half the staff would be withdrawn. He added that if Mrs Bottomley worked there now she would be made redundant in two months' time. I am sad to say that many workers in the National Health Service would like that to happen to her in her present job.

In this case, the withdrawal of staff is directly due to the Local Management Scheme for schools, which has meant that Southwark Local Education Authority cannot afford the necessary £ 180,000 to pay its share of the costs of the clinic. Sadly that is not an isolated case. Professor Pearce from Nottingham and other contacts that I have in other parts of the country say that that is happening all over the place. It is not as though the service were adequate, even when it functioned at full strength.

In conclusion, as many noble Lords pointed out, part-time working and family poverty give rise to family troubles. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, pointed out very clearly that contented families produce contented children. They need tolerance, understanding and humour. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, made the same point. That is not easy when the family's finances and the very roof over the family's head are insecure. Surely this is the time to consolidate and increase the services which support families. To allow them to disintegrate, as is happening now, is to allow disillusion, unhappiness and crime to increase.

6.18 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is to be commended for having chosen the International Year of the Family for today's debate. No doubt "the family" will have a different meaning and form for different people, depending on their religious beliefs, ethnic origins and local customs. The International Year of the Family does not define the family in any rigid sense but believes that it goes beyond the economic unit.

When my husband and I were living in Ghana in West Africa, we had some Ghanaian friends living next door to us. The father was one of three brothers. One brother died and the two remaining brothers between them took the children into their own homes and brought them up with their own children. The children were required to help with the family chores but were fed, housed, clothed and educated. That would seem to be a form of social security that worked very well and is also an example of the extended family.

In the United Kingdom, according to the Employment Gazette, 28 per cent. of Caribbean British mothers are in full-time work compared with 18 per cent of white British mothers. That is among lone mothers. The most important source of child care for those mothers is that obtained from the family or friends, which shows the value of the extended family network. Perhaps that should be encouraged as it must surely help to keep families together.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, in an interesting and exhilarating maiden speech, spoke of the importance of parenting education. Research evidence shows that the quality of parenting substantially affects the child's future ability to contribute to society as an adult. Over the past 10 years there has been a gradual growth in the provision of parenting education and support programmes, much of which is undertaken by voluntary organisations. Those programmes reach only a few thousand parents a year. Perhaps one way to reach more parents would be to encourage schools to provide free classroom facilities for parenting education groups to be run in the evenings or at weekends. Many grandparents can and do offer valuable support and help, especially if the parent is not in a stable relationship. If they live near enough they could perhaps babysit so that both parents could attend the parenting education groups.

One matter for deep concern is the extent of child sexual abuse which breaks up families. There are two matters which need consideration. First, it is often children who are removed from their homes; thus they suffer a double hurt. Secondly, strangely enough, men who have been found guilty of child sexual abuse are often devoted to their wives and children and they to him. They need much more therapeutic help than they are receiving at present. I congratulate the Faithful' Foundation which is tackling that area of need.

The National Deaf-Blind & Rubella Association, known as Sense, finds that the Government's well-intentioned legislation since the early 1980s, to reduce the role of the state in people's lives and to give greater choice and responsibility to individuals for their actions and decisions, is causing greater pressures for families with a disabled member. To a family, its sense of isolation and helplessness when a child is first identified as having a disability, is overpowering. When it learns that the child has multiple disabilities and is deaf-blind, normally only partial loss of sight and hearing, the parents are concerned about how, as a family, they will manage and how they will be supported.

Deaf-blind children need an intensive level of support over a long period of time in order to surmount the difficulties which loss of hearing and sight present. But when they reach 19 their statutory education stops and there is little provision for deaf-blind young adults. Very often the result is that deaf-blind and multiple disabled adults go back to their family homes. That places a great burden on their families. While many parents accept their responsibilities as a part of parenthood, they still need help in receiving respite care.

Local authorities provide a certain amount of respite care. It is not only important for a family to have a rest from caring, but also for the disabled member to meet other people outside the family. In the case of deaf-blind, their needs are extremely intense and require a great deal of care from the carers. Therefore, respite support is all the more necessary. Some local authorities show imagination. They pay Sense to take deaf-blind children away on holiday. That is a great help to families who can then have a respite from caring and can enjoy a break without worry. The child or young adult is given a holiday which is tailored to its abilities. Voluntary carers who help with those holidays are given a tough training, including communication skills which are so important when caring for deaf-blind people.

I hope that the Minister will feel able to address himself to some of those points which are so important in keeping families together.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Dean for allowing us to debate this important issue. In listening to many of your Lordships' speeches I sometimes feel, when thinking of my own family in a general sense, that we have been subjected to virtually every evil about which every other Peer spoke today. Yet in the round I come from an ordinary, happy, resilient family. I suspect also that many of us have skeletons in our cupboards.

We heard of the importance of the family. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and my noble friend Lady David about the importance of education. We heard the interesting speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, about the legal aspects of the status of the family. I was particularly interested in the speech of my noble friend Lord Desai in regard to the fiscal system in which the family operate. We heard also about the disruptive pressures to which family life is being subjected. My noble friend Lady David again spoke of the increasing rate of crime and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, of increasing rates of drug use.

As this is a timed debate I want to concentrate on one specific aspect that has not yet been touched upon; that is, housing and how the standards of housing affect family life. As many noble Lords will be aware, I am a councillor in the London Borough of Wandsworth. I can say that a good 80 per cent. of my casework is related to housing matters. The vast majority of that casework is related to matters connected with the family. It is related to issues of overcrowding and generally inadequate housing.

One example of an ordinary family, not an extreme family, perhaps illustrates what we have come to accept as an acceptable standard of housing in Britain generally. In the family I have in mind both the mother and father work, but in extremely low paid jobs in central Battersea. They have two teenage children— a daughter and son— both of whom are well behaved and regularly attend school. They live in a very small two-bedroomed flat. Not unnaturally the parents now wish the children to sleep in separate bedrooms so it is quite normal, every night, for the mother to sleep in the same bedroom as the daughter and the father in the same bedroom as the son. There are no opportunities for privacy, for intimacy between the mother and the father and the flat is never quiet, so there is little opportunity for study.

My point is that that is not an extreme case. It is a completely ordinary case and that family have absolutely no chance of obtaining a transfer under the council waiting list scheme because so many more families live in more extreme conditions, some of which were spoken about by other noble Lords. I believe that it is largely the responsibility of the party opposite that there seems to be a lack of ambition in trying to solve those sorts of overcrowding problems. We constantly hear of the extreme problems, but the experience of a large number of our population is not being addressed by the policies of the party opposite.

We recently saw a report by the district auditor, Mr. Magill, regarding the practices of Westminster City Council. In his report he questioned the statutory duty to house the homeless versus the discretionary desire of an elected council to pursue a sales programme to sell off its council property. I am delighted that that is finally being questioned in the courts of law and also in the media. It is something about which I have campaigned for as long as I have been a member of the Labour Party.

This evening, however, I do not want to discuss the extremes of homelessness or drug dependency. I want to talk about the ordinary experience of families. As I said, there seems to be a complete lack of ambition by the party opposite to solve those sorts of problems.

When I was initially asked to speak in this debate I feared it would be a thoroughly sanctimonious discussion. My fears have been partially allayed and it has been an extremely well-informed debate. We heard, most notably from my noble friend Lady Castle, of concrete examples for solutions to the problems that the previous Labour Party had put forward. It is a sorry spectacle to hear from the Government, as we have on previous occasions, about the constant ratcheting down of support for families and other social services. The only certainty that seems to come from the party opposite is that it is not responsible for any of the social ills about which we heard from many noble Lords. I hope that the Minister will not give us platitudes about the importance of the family but will address some of the real problems laced by the family. I also hope that he will not be unduly sanctimonious.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for bringing about this debate and for the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. Nowadays, there are many ways to define the different types of family. I leave to others the analysis of figures that arise from research on the different types of family need both here and in other parts of the world. It appears that for some on the poverty line things are improving. For example, according to research that I have received the purchasing power of commodities by those in need is improving.

What does any family need besides the necessary finance? First, I suggest words that are relevant to any type of family. The words are "care", "love", "concern", "patience" and "understanding". Those form the foundation of the family. Naturally, it must start with the mother and father and then go to the child. One hopes that it will go back from the child to the mother and father. Can a woman or a man on her or his own fulfil that basic task, except in rare exceptions where the mother or father has died?

Is there not a way in which the natural instincts given to women and men— I say given by God— can be used nobly and honourably? Are they not noble and honourable instincts that are basically beautiful to be used in a beautiful way; that is, involving the spirit and mind besides the purely physical? Is not a family in which a man and woman give themselves to each other wholeheartedly with the words, "care", "love", "concern", "patience", and "understanding" the fulfilment of those natural instincts? Does that not give greater strength to those words? Surely, each has his or her own strength for the other. On the whole, the human make-up is such that the need is for the other sex, except for the very rare occasions when men and women, who live a godly and good life giving to the community, wish to stay single.

The knowledge acquired from science with spiritual and moral wisdom should be able to overcome any genetic faults or early influences that cause what is natural to become unnatural. Often, today, it seems that for some of us that has happened and is happening.

A father living up to the words that I mentioned can help his daughter to have trust and respect for a man whom she senses is a good man. In the same way, a mother can help her son to have trust in and respect for a woman whom he senses to be a good woman. Naturally, a father can give to a son and a mother to a daughter. Each needs the other— a man needs a woman and a woman needs a man— but in a healthy, beautiful and noble commitment to life.

May all individuals, charities, voluntary organisations and Her Majesty's Government help the family by having in mind the words, "care", "love", "concern", "patience" and "understanding". Surely, those are the words to have in mind as we try to help the family today. May one-parent families or any other families come to know the joy of the family of a man and woman who give themselves to each other and bring up and care for children who may confide in their parents, even when they have— as the phrase goes— flown the nest.

Can this year of the family be blessed, especially where the family needs help? I talk about the rekindling of love, patience, care and understanding that somehow has become lost. Many marriages need not break up. There may be many more people who can have a true or — dare I say— basic marriage.

Let us go forward in this year with those words in mind. If we work together in that way with hope and trust, I believe that family life will be strengthened and rekindled. It may be that the great treasure in which some of us believe— the Christian concept of marriage and family life— will again sweep this country and the world.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

6.38 p.m.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on his maiden speech and say how delighted I am to find that he really exists and is not just a. voice on the radio. I also welcome this opportunity provided by my noble friend Baroness Dean to debate some issues surrounding the family at the beginning of the United Nations International Year of the Family.

I wish to focus on families in work and suggest how fundamental changes in the nature of work have put pressure on families and rendered part of our benefits system obsolete and how families may in future be called upon to pay for today's low wages. Ten years ago learned papers were written about how we would cope with all the leisure time that we would have. The realities have turned out to be somewhat different. Because of the need to become more competitive, business has re-engineered itself. This is a root and branch review and reorganisation of how companies produce goods and services. As a result of that reorganisation the nature of work has completely changed. Regular nine-to-five jobs are disappearing. It is said that only about one-third of British workers now work a traditional nine-to-five day. The remainder— the vast majority— do shift work, weekend work, job shares, short-term contracts and so on. Nearly one-quarter of the workforce are in part-time jobs. More than a million people have two or more jobs. One in every 20 employees is contracted on a temporary basis. Further, more than one in every eight are self employed.

There are other changes. A growing number of jobs involve long periods away from home or are done at home. People now change jobs more frequently. In retailing, because of long opening hours and employment regulations, firms put many of their staff on a part-time basis and effectively create job shares. Perhaps that is the new way in which labour is casualised. In no way does that mean that people will have more leisure. Competitive pressures demand a much greater intensity at work. At a Levi's plant which I know, it used to take five days to process a pair of jeans; today it takes just one day and this with improved quality and less middle management. These are the profound changes in the organisation of work which directly result from what industry calls "re-engineering". Coping with these changes and the periods of unemployment in between, invariably brings pressures on the family.

There are also vital changes in the nature of work itself. Because work is becoming less physical more women are employed. Indeed, eight out of nine jobs created since the end of the recession have gone to women. Another fundamental change needs to be highlighted. Society is turning into work-rich and work-poor families. In 1992 60 per cent. of women with an employed husband were in work, whereas only 24 per cent. of women with an unemployed husband were in work. So the strains on family life are not only that more women are at work, but the trend seems to be that either both partners are at work or neither. Changing employment patterns are substantially increasing inequalities in the distribution of paid work across families.

The rights and wrongs of all this are for another debate, but I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that what is certain is that these changes are permanent. These changes in the organisation and nature of work will disrupt family life. Although the hours worked can be shorter, they are often unsocial and at much more intense pressure. The pressures to perform at work can lead to tiredness and frustration at home. The uncertainty of temporary work and self-employment can create financial pressure and family conflict. Prolonged absence from home or the discipline of working at home, can disrupt family life. Frequent changing of jobs and bouts of unemployment only add to these pressures.

How should we and the Government respond to these changes in order to help families? First and foremost, we need to bring these changes out into the open and discuss the implications more honestly. Let families know that there are fundamental structural changes taking place in our patterns of employment. That will at least help families to cope and not feel that they are the only ones feeling these pressures.

Secondly, we must "re-engineer" our benefits system and bring it into line with these new forms of work. Targeting and helping people to help themselves is not enough. In practice targeting is little more than governmentspeak for saving money. Anyway, a walk through any city centre will demonstrate its failure. The changes taking place are too fundamental for a piecemeal, do-it-yourself solution. The benefits system needs fundamental change. That is why my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition is absolutely right in setting up the Social Justice Commission to find a root and branch solution instead of just tinkering with the problem.

The new benefits system must tackle the excessive clawback rate faced by those accepting part-time work which means that people are too often no better off— and frequently worse off— in work than on benefits. My noble friend Lord Desai has dealt with the way the tax regulations mitigate against families.

Thirdly, our pension legislation needs to be brought into line with the changes in work. The provision in many occupational pension schemes that the pension is based on the last few years of a person's working-life, assumes that people enjoy their highest pay shortly before they retire. That needs re-thinking. It is wasteful because it forces people into unnecessary early retirement.

The pension position of those in part-time work also needs looking at. Industry is certainly more competitive by employing many part-time workers who have no pension provision. Will that not mean that the family and the taxpayer will eventually pay for this cheap labour by having to provide for them in the future?

This new kind of working environment will be with us for some time to come so we must help families adapt by showing approval. Until they catch up with the changes, the present benefits rules give out strong signals that this kind of work is not approved of. We need to send out clear signals that it is valued. The Government's emphasis on a low-wage economy tells people that they are expendable. Best practice in industry has shown that if people's work is valued, they work better and are happier at home.

Let us use this Year of the Family as an occasion to bring out into the open all these changes in work and help the family make adjustments. They will cope with the inconvenience and pressures far better if their contribution is recognised and valued and not equated with a form of cheap labour that enables us to compete with the Far East. Let us acknowledge that people (particularly men) can scale down their working lives instead of being cut off in their prime as the pension rules encourage. Let us also make sure that our children do not have to pay for today's cheap labour. All this will help the family.

Most important; the family will be better able to respond to these pressures if they understand what is happening and are supported by an appropriate benefits system.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I join those many Members of your Lordships' House — 24, to be recise— who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for this opportunity to reflect on the family. Social historians in 50 years time could do worse than publish for our great great grandchildren the collected speeches from today's debate as a record of what we felt about the family in the last years of the 20th century. Those great great grandchildren may look back with wonder to some of the things we take for granted today, like the perpetual reorganisation of most of the services that support the family. I trust this means that they will not need a history teacher to explain what a family means.

One hundred and twenty years ago Sir Francis Burnand, who clearly knew his "Twelfth Night", wrote: Some achieve families and some have families thrust upon them That seems to strike a cynical note for a celebration of the family, but it illustrates rather well a point I want to make about disabled people and their families.

We look askance, and rightly so, at the social mores of societies in which the stigma of learning disability is such that disabled children are disowned by their families and herded, together in so-called orphanages, or are indeed killed, by neglect or by even more brutal means. We forget that, in the memory of many of us who are still parents, less than 50 years ago the choice on offer to parents of a disabled child in this country was to give that child up to an institution, which might be many miles away and did not welcome parents anyway, or to soldier on as a family indefinitely and with little or no help. In short, families had the option of immediate destruction as a family, or long-term self-destruction by having an unsustainable and unending task of caring thrust upon them.

Times were not easy for many families just after the Second World War, but the parents of a non-disabled child could reasonably think in terms of school, and work, and an independent home, in due course. For the parents with a severely disabled child there was no school, no prospect of employment, no likelihood of a residential home, and no end to the indefinitely extended family life that had been thrust upon them and left with them. Many a mother experienced the nurse standing beside her bed holding the long-awaited baby, and saying,"Do you want to take it home or will you leave it here?", or "Just put it away, forget it, and start again."

Those are the negatives. Then, as now, there were positives too. What destroyed some families strengthened others. For some families a very special bonding was developed which stood the test of time. These families were spared the growing apart and the letting go; and, for good as well as ill, retained the parent-child relationship long after the child had become— perhaps not wholly noticed— an adult, and the parents had become old.

We have come a long way. We have education for our children now, as a right, and some of it is very good. Beyond school there are college possibilities. For all our grumbles about the 3hortcomings of social security, we have seen enormous advances in such support for disabled people and for families with disabled children.

There is now some prospect of people with learning disabilities eventually having a home of their own, and hence the prospect of a more normal parent-son or parent-daughter relationship when the one-time children have grown up. There is some prospect, though a rather poor one, of people with a learning disability actually getting a job.

Attitudes too have changed. My own father— a kind and gentle man— shared with the rest of us the shock of our first child, a daughter, being born as a mentally handicapped child; but thereafter he never shared her with us again, maintaining a resolute silence about her very existence until his dying day.

Today's society is more accepting, though some of the expressed attitudes to mixing with children and adults with disabilities in play group, nursery class, secondary school, workplace, or when they move on to a substitute family home in the community, suggest that we still have a long way to go before disabled people and their families are fully accepted.

Indeed, in many parts of the world in this International Year of the Family there has been little or no advance from the changeling theory: the theory once popular in Europe that an evil force had taken away the real child and substituted this non-person. With this theory, the father could disclaim all responsibility and even the mother could distance herself from an uncomfortable situation.

My reason for joining the lengthy queue for the soap box today was not simply to share with your Lordships a little history, though history is always with us, and is worth recalling. I want to go on to make the point that the National Health Service and Community Care Act and the Children Act are essentially about partnership with families and that the evidence since 1991 has not been of a dramatically successful implementation of those legislative requirements. The Social Services Inspectorate report on services to disabled children and their families (published this week in a highly commendable variety of formats, including braille and tape) says that authorities still have much to do in terms of consulting and involving parents. The most recent audit of community care implies that, despite the lip service paid to carers, families still seem to be regarded as rather irrelevant to the main business of professionals and service managers doing, or failing to do, things for would-be service users.

The professional judgment that families are a problem seems to sit rather ill with the political judgment that families are a convenient solution. Perhaps in this year of the family we can get a little nearer to a real partnership in which the strengths of the family as a support for disabled people are themselves supported, but not exploited. We have heard a little about respite care from my noble friend Lady Kinloss. A father at a recent MENCAP gathering of carers reported that he and his wife had spent only three days away together— and that with us then in Blackpool! — in the 35 years since their handicapped son was born. More than 20,000 families have no day services place for their son or daughter. Only a minority of even the most severely handicapped adults and children have any respite care. William Congreve in Love for Love wrote of the antediluvian family which not even the waters of the flood could wash away. But even Congreve could be wrong. Sometimes we ask so much of families that we threaten them with drowning.

The institutional solution of former years caricatured families as absentees who turned up when someone they had not seen for 30 years died in case there was a legacy to be claimed, despite all the evidence that in reality many families overcame distance and hostility to stay around for 30 years as the only consistent element in the life of someone moved between wards and treatment regimes at the apparent whim of staff. Even so, there were good partnerships. Now that we can lay claim to a system based, albeit rather precariously, on assessment of individual needs and family needs, and a system which proclaims choice, I hope we shall have many more people achieving the sort of family life that they want; and many fewer having thrust upon them the sort of family life that none of us wants.

6.55 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, the House is, I know, grateful to my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde for raising this issue in debate and for reminding us that this is the International Year of the Family. I am sure that we are all grateful to her also for the robust and excellent way in which she introduced the debate. We have had a very good discussion of this subject. Like other noble Lords, I particularly commend the maiden contributions of the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre.

We have heard a lot about traditional family values recently — the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised that issue earlier — and we shall be having another debate on the family on the basis of the Unstarred Question which has been tabled by another of my noble friends. I do not want to pre-empt that debate, but I think that we should be cautious about viewing the past and so-called "traditions" through rose-tinted spectacles.

The Prime Minister has been talking in recent months about traditional values. If newspapers are to be believed, he has been relying on a well-known essay by George Orwell, who was, of course, a socialist. In addition to the essay to which I have referred, Orwell also wrote Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier.

It is as well to remind ourselves that the slum conditions which so revolted Orwell were also greatly the concern of those responsible for the post-war consensus, now so often derided, but referred to this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Monkswell. He was absolutely right. The first Labour Administration following the war had as a priority the creation of full employment and the establishment and improvement of public services. The Conservative Administrations that followed did not seek to undermine what had been established. Indeed, the term "Butskellism" was devised to describe the fact that there was a continuity of social policy.

Of course, those politicians made mistakes. We now know— indeed, it is conceded on all sides— that tower blocks were not the best way of rehousing people from the bombed out slums, but the intention was to provide a better environment in which people could live and bring up their families. Similarly, with social provision, there was general agreement that a civilised society should provide a safety net through which people and their families simply could not fall.

Those reforms, which enjoyed very wide support, arose largely because the politicians of the time had grim recollections of the state of affairs so graphically described by George Orwell in the two essays to which I have referred, plus the shaming knowledge of the appalling condition of many of the children who had been evacuated from the inner cities to the more prosperous areas of the countryside to escape the wartime bombing. We should recall these things when we are urged to return to traditions.

There is, however, another and worthy tradition— a tradition of public service which supports the idea of good social provision. I believe that that worthy tradition was broken in 1979 when a Conservative Administration was returned, the leadership of which had turned its back on that tradition in favour of a more individualistic, entirely market-oriented philosophy. We are now seeing the results of that change.

I say these things because it is not possible simply to discuss the family in isolation. As a number of noble Lords have said, the family exists in society. Its shape will change as society changes. Nowadays there are many more single parent families. This point has arisen several times in the debate. One in three marriages ends in divorce. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, drew our attention to that statistic. There are more people, mostly women, bringing up children on income support as a result. It has been decided that spouses who leave families must be compelled to support the children in those families. Few would disagree with that, but we all know now that the operations of the Child Support Agency have resulted in some injustices to second families and have not always succeeded in lifting the first family off the poverty line. There have been some much needed modifications but I have no doubt that we have not heard the last of that. There may well be further debates and perhaps further modifications. However, nothing justifies the reports in the press at the weekend about attacks made on CSA staff and its premises.

Furthermore, the position of women within society has changed radically in the past 50 years. My noble friend Lady Lockwood referred to that. In my view, the change has been very much for the better. It is true that many of the jobs available for women are in low paid, low skilled areas. There is an absence of protection since the wages councils were disposed of, with the result that wages in some of those occupations are lower than ever.

But there is at least a general acceptance of the fact that a woman does not have to stay in an unsatisfactory relationship because there is no other choice. Years ago, some marriages lasted for a lifetime because there was no other alternative. There were men in all classes who treated their wives as little more than serfs. There was little recourse against a violent and brutal husband. I do not believe that the children of such marriages can have had a very happy childhood— indeed, I know that they did not. There is little merit in extolling such marriage stability, founded as it was in many cases on the total submission of the woman, who in many instances was economically dependent. Single parent families, therefore, are not necessarily a "bad thing" and worse than a family with two parents. It depends very much on the kind of parenting the child receives. The quality of parenting is very important, as mentioned at length by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.

But, whatever the shape of the family, there are certain basic requirements without which it is not possible for a fulfilled family life to occur. First, of course, there is housing. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, out of his great experience, referred to that in detail. I have spoken of the mistakes made in regard to tower blocks but it does not seem to me that we are doing very much better now. The "right to buy" has no doubt benefited some people but it has severely diminished the stock of housing available for let at reasonable rentals.

Meantime, according to the London Research Centre, one child in every three in local authority or housing association accommodation is living in overcrowded conditions. The situation is worse for black and Asian children, where the figure is one in two. Overcrowding is said to affect 150,000 children in London, which is a 25 per cent. increase on the number six years ago. The situation in other major cities does not appear to be much better.

There is clearly a need for housing of a decent standard to be provided for rent. Local authorities were once regarded as having this responsibility. However, as we have seen, in recent years the Government have been intent on removing that responsibility and, indeed, their hostility to local government is manifest. Yet only the public service sector can realistically meet the evident need

Secondly, there is a need for the parents to be in employment. Unemployment continues to be a massive problem, and in particular male unemployment. This is largely due to the rundown of much of the UK manufacturing industry and the growth of service sector employment. Mud. of that is undertaken by women, including women 'working part-time. It is clear that unemployment, and in particular long-term unemployment, has a devastating effect on family life. Indeed, it has been identified as a major cause of family breakdown. It is particularly injurious so far as young males are concerned.

We have often discussed training in this House and the Government are I think quite genuinely concerned to improve training opportunities for young people. But, if the young person can see no job at the end of the training period, he or she is unlikely to be very enthusiastic about taking it up in the first place. Moreover, we still tend to define ourselves by the jobs we do and therefore a young man without a job may feel that he has no identity at all. It will have a severe effect upon his pride in himself and thus will affect his relations with other people, in particular those close to him in the family. He may feel unwilling to take on the long-term commitment involved in marriage and a family.

Moreover, the new flexibility in the labour market which the Government find so attractive is not attractive in human terms. I have sympathy with the point made by my noble friend Lord Haskel. It means more part-time work, more short-term contracts and more young people having to leave home to find jobs elsewhere; in other words, much less stability. All these conditions militate against the establishment and maintenance of a good and traditional family life.

The other areas that are important are, of course, education and health. Both have been the subject of so-called "radical" reforms in recent years. In neither area does there seem to be a greater degree of stability or security as a result. I have spoken about the environment in which families are expected to develop and, indeed, to provide a basis of sound citizenship for the next generation. As has been said by my noble friends, in the past 14 years we have seen a widening of the gulf between the very rich and the very poor. I know that that is sometimes disputed but it seems to be a fact. Those who are deprived are regaled incessantly by the media and television with a view of the way in which the very well off are able to live. It is not surprising that in such circumstances some young people turn to petty crime and are then drawn into committing greater offences. Of course, there are many who are not. But many with experience of working with such young people believe that the deprivation of a section of society in the past decade, plus the more obvious affluence of others, has had an effect. The breakdown of family life in such circumstances is therefore not all that surprising.

Nor do I think that the so-called decline in religious belief has much to do with it. I do not think that the British have ever been a religious race. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will not take exception to that remark, but I believe it to be true. However, the majority still have a respect for the law, as they had when Orwell wrote The Lion and the Unicorn. I believe that if we have a concern for families, as indeed we all should have, we must ensure that the changing circumstances in which we live provide families with sufficient support.

I am not happy that the Government do not support the EC directives on matters such as parental leave, for example. At the end of November the Secretary of State for employment blocked a move by the EC Social Affairs Council to establish legal rights to parental leave to be taken for three months by either parent for the care of children under two years old. The usual argument was advanced that this will impose unreasonable burdens on employers and thereby damage job opportunities. But sooner or later we have to come to terms with the changing needs of families in which both parents are working. The Government are to be commended, therefore, for their decision to adopt the EC childcare recommendation, which calls for the active commitment of government, employers, trade unions and parents to promote a more equal sharing of responsibilities for children between men and women as well as improving the provision of childcare services.

In 1978 the Equal Opportunities Commission declared that: women cannot enjoy genuine equality of opportunity unless they have access to day care facilities for their children. The complete inadequacy of current provision for both the under-fives and dependent school-age children is now probably one of the most important factors restricting many women's opportunities". The EOC states that that is as true today as it was in 1978. It further states that childcare provision in the UK has never been developed to keep pace with the demand and falls behind that in many other EC member states. The EOC also states that the debate has gone on for decades, as we heard this afternoon, about whether mothers of young children should go out to work. But the reality is that more and more are doing so and the trend is likely to continue. There is therefore an urgent need to give support to young mothers with children who would benefit from easily accessible and cheap nursery and crèche facilities.

We should, as the Social Security Advisory Committee recommends, ensure the maintenance of an adequate social security system. As it states, social security is everyone's business since almost everyone without exception will be a recipient as well as a contributor at some point in their lives. I agree with the contribution made by my noble friend Lady Castle in her reference to child benefit. We fought very hard in this House to maintain and improve the value of child benefit and, as I recall, we had some success in that regard. Furthermore, I agree absolutely with what my noble friend said about SERPS— the state earnings-related pension scheme. That has been eroded by successive Conservative Administrations. For people in less well-paid employment, it held out the promise of a reasonable pension in their retirement. It is a great pity that has been undermined in favour of quite inappropriate personal private pension provision.

We cannot expect there to be well-adjusted, stable families unless the conditions are provided to enable that to happen. I have endeavoured to give some idea of what I think those conditions should be. Again, I thank my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to debate this extremely important subject and I await with interest the response of the Minister.

7.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate this very important subject. I too congratulate the two maiden speakers. The UN's designation of 1994 as the International Year of the Family provides us with an opportunity to take stock of the issues facing today's families in this country.

Although society is changing, and the family is also changing, our basic values cannot change. What cannot change is the overriding need to ensure the welfare of children, and to assert the continuing responsibility of parents for their children. Concerns such as these must be central to our policy.

Because the family is central in society, it is also central in policy making. It is not something that is picked up or put down according to the timetables of UN international years but has always been central to this Government's policies. A number of very important initiatives relating to family life came to fruition in 1993: the implementation of the Child Support Act; my noble and learned friend's Green Paper on mediation and divorce; and the White Paper on adoption.

This year we are supporting the work of the UK Association for the International Year of the Family, which will be organising and overseeing a number of activities within this country. I understand that the UK association intends to concentrate, through various regional and local events, on celebrating the positive aspects of family life. There will be particular activities on Sunday,15th May, designated by the UN as the International Day of the Family.

Any consideration of the family in 1994 has to recognise the needs which have arisen out of changes in family structure over the years. There is no role for the state to dictate a particular family structure or how many children a family should have, or to pronounce on the role of the mother or father. We must take families as they are and not as we should like them to be.

The extended family, though still very important, is fragmenting. People are more mobile. Young families move away from parents and grandparents, and often cannot get the support of an established family structure. Elderly people may have no relations living nearby on whom to call.

Although two parent families are still the norm, there have been marked changes over recent years. There has been an increase in divorce. More than one in three marriages now end in divorce, sometimes involving a toll of human suffering that must be of concern to us all. There has also been an increase in living together outside marriage. Between 1979 and 1991, the proportion of non-married women who were cohabiting more than doubled from 11 per cent. to 23 per cent. There has also been a growth in lone parent families and a vast increase in the number of lone parents. Twenty years ago there were 570,000 lone parents bringing up children. Today, there are nearly 1.5 million, bringing up over 2 million children. As a result of those changes, other relationships exist in much greater numbers than before— in particular, families with stepchildren.

The social changes which have brought this about are complex and it is not in the power of government to reverse them. What the Government can do is to seek to ensure that the family unit, whatever its composition, provides a stable environment in which to bring up children. It becomes more important, not less, to assert the commitment that both parents have to their child. It is wrong to bring a child into the world if we are not willing to provide a stable, loving environment for its upbringing.

We believe that the most suitable family unit in which to raise children is that of a mother and father living together, caring and being responsible for their children. Where that structure breaks down, the state's role is to provide a facilitating framework of law which allows people to resolve differences amicably and to make their own choices while maintaining their responsibility towards their children.

The Government also have a key role to play in providing the economic framework within which the family can prosper. We believe that the best way to improve the well-being and living standards of families is to make it more worthwhile for those who can, and want to, to take up employment and be able to provide for themselves. Improving incentives is more than just a matter of reducing the burden on the state.

It is an essential element of human nature and human dignity to want, wherever possible, to live an independent life, to want to stand on one's own two feet and to want to provide for one's own family. Our fiscal and economic policies are designed to create that foundation for individual endeavour. But we also need to support and encourage those families who are currently not able to maintain themselves.

The Government see the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a significant advance for all children and young people. The convention sets out in one document the rights which every child in the world should have. Most importantly, it provides a universally agreed standard by which individual countries can measure their treatment and care of children. The UK's perception of children's rights and needs is closely aligned to the philosophy of the convention. The UK accepts that, because they are vulnerable, children are entitled to special consideration and protection. As they become older and more mature they must increasingly be allowed to make decisions about matters concerning themselves.

It is now just over two years since the convention came into force in this country. Each government department has examined its own area of responsibility and has submitted its account of progress. All these separate contributions have been drawn together to form the UK's first report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which will be published in March. The report is a comprehensive study— over 100 pages long. It is positive about our achievements while recognising that there are areas where there is room for improvement. It will be sent forward to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child next month and the Government will appear before the committee to discuss the report. The next report will be due in five years' time and will report on our progress in implementing the convention.

The Government will be supporting the work of the UK Association for the International Year of the Family, which will be launching the Family Challenge as part of a nationwide campaign in March 1994. Although only Sunday 15th May has been designated World Family day by the UN, we shall be extending that, and the association will be organising and overseeing a number of other activities within the UK during 1994 which will provide a welcome opportunity to highlight issues facing today's families and reassert importance of basic family values.

The programme started on 21st February with a conference organised by the Family Welfare Association, and will culminate in December with a conference entitled Agenda For Action which will bring together the themes and views that have developed during the year.

In the social security benefits reforms of 1988, the family figured prominently. The cornerstone of the reforms was the creation of a benefit system that would enable us to do more for those in greatest need— above all, for the most vulnerable members of society, which includes those families on low incomes.

The benefit system recognises the changing social and economic structure of family. Income Support now directs even more resources through a system of personal allowances and premiums reflecting the needs of groups such as families with children and lone parents. The benefit system gives priority to helping the less well off families with children. Extra help— worth around £ 1 billion a year in the current financial year — has been provided since the 1988 benefit reforms.

The vast majority are much better off as a result of the Government's policies. Average incomes have risen by 35 per cent. between 1979 and 1990–1991 and those rises are not confined to the rich. There have been increases for all economic status groups and family types. Those thought of as being especially poor have also seen their income increase. For example, a typical unemployed couple with two children and receiving income support are now £ 17 per week better off in real terms than they were in 1979. Government policies have continued to increase the prosperity of the population as a whole while also protecting the most vulnerable.

The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, accused the Government of destroying the security in old age afforded by the pension system established by the Labour Government. I believe that the noble Baroness was rewriting history in her speech. She must surely remember that, under this Administration, pensioners' average total net incomes have risen by 42 per cent. in real terms, which is faster than that of the population as a whole. That compares with the devastation wreaked upon pensioners' total incomes by the raging inflation under the last Labour Administration. The conquest of inflation is particularly important for those on fixed incomes. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to respond. I give way.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. However, when he talks about the increase in pensions under the Conservatives, is it not a fact that that increase is due to additions under the state earnings related pension scheme (SERPS), which we introduced and which his Government tried to destroy?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the point that am trying to make is that, by keeping inflation under control, we have actually managed to produce real increases for pensioners as opposed to the situation which arose when the noble Baroness's party was in power, where inflation was so great that, in real terms, pensioners received less money.

While on the subject of pensions, our White Paper on the pension age addresses the issue of part-time working and pensions. We shall be introducing changes to treat family credit and disability working allowance as earnings for pension purposes. That will mean that people who have children and who are working 16 hours a week or more can receive additional pension in later life. The value of that reform for an average family credit claimant will raise pensions by almost 75 per cent. above what would otherwise accrue for such a year of work.

As my noble friend Lord Joseph said, it would be disastrous to return to the incredibly high taxation rates of the Labour Government in the late 1970s. It is important to remember that take-home pay has risen by 40 per cent. since 1979 and that it is projected to rise by about £ 30 a week in the coming two years. Interest rates are now half their October 1990 level, thus providing the average mortgage payer with an extra £ 17 a week. The incomes of the most vulnerable will be protected by increasing income-related benefits by 3.9 per cent. from April, including a generous package of help towards the extra cost of VAT on fuel bills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said that ours was the only country in Europe without a guaranteed minimum wage. However, this country is the only country with a benefit system like family credit, which is much more effective than a minimum wage in helping low income working families. Those working part time would not be helped significantly by a minimum wage, whereas family credit assists those working 16 hours a week or more by reference to their family responsibilities. Indeed, over 500,000 people now take advantage of it.

The Government have been very concerned to ensure that, while providing help to those most in need, the incentive to work has been maintained and, wherever possible, improved. We have made a number of changes to the tax and national insurance systems and to the structure of the income-related benefits to ensure that people are much better off in work than unemployed. Those and other measures have also ensured that, once in work, the combined effect of the tax and national insurance system and the withdrawal of income-related benefits does not place people in a poverty trap. Recent research by the Policies Study Institute shows that couples in work and receiving family credit were on average £ 18 per week better off than when out of work, and that lone parents were an average of £ 30 per week better off.

Perhaps I may now turn to child care. The Government's policy on child care is to encourage the private and voluntary sectors and individuals to provide a variety of services which give parents choice. Over the past five years we have seen rapid growth in the amount of child care — an increase of over 150 per cent. in the number of nursery places and over 40 per cent. in the number of registered child minders. There are now 91,000 places for children under five and over 108,000 child minders with 250,000 places for children under the age of eight.

We recognise the difficulties faced by parents in balancing work and financial responsibilities. Although we feel that employers and employees are best placed to decide which arrangements suit their individual needs and circumstances, the Government can and do actively encourage employers to consider introducing flexible working arrangements in a wide range of different jobs. My noble friend Lady Young explained that very clearly in her speech.

Your Lordships particularly welcomed the help with child care costs for low income working families which will be introduced in October this year and will assist 150,000 families, including the 50,000 likely to be able to take up work as a result of the change announced in the Budget. We have stuck to our pledge to maintain child benefit. It is still paid for all families and uprated each year in line with prices. From next April, a typical family with two children will receive £ 18.45 per week tax free. We are also the only EC country which uprates its child benefit both annually and in line with prices.

Our community care reforms are designed to help the carers of people with physical disabilities. The first two key objectives of our community care reforms are to promote the development of care services to enable people to live in their own homes wherever feasible and sensible; and to ensure that service providers make practical support for relatives and friends who care for dependent people a high priority.

The reforms give local authorities an increased incentive to ensure that sufficient services of this kind are available. Caring for a physically disabled person is often demanding, and the emphasis on care services for people at home is intended to relieve the physical burden on carers. The ring-fenced funding for community care which the Government are providing as a special transitional grant will enable local authorities to expand the provision of such services.

The total funds made available to authorities through that grant in the current financial year are £ 565 million. In October of last year, the Minister for Health announced that the special transitional grant would be increased by £ 20 million in 1994–95 and £ 30 million in the following year.

Many speakers expressed concern about education. An indication of the importance that the Government attach to education and the family can be found in the first section of the Education Reform Act 1988, which introduced the national curriculum. The Act requires the curriculum to promote spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development and should prepare young people for the opportunities and responsibilities of adult life. Adult relationships, marriage and parenthood naturally feature in any discussion on the responsibilities of and preparation for adult life.

My noble friend Lord Joseph referred to the need to educate parents in the skills of bringing up children, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his interesting and wide-ranging speech. I agree. I also agree that voluntary organisations play an important role; for example, Homestart, which helps about 21,000 children every year at a cost of £ 182 per child per year. The Government support Homestart with a £ 115,000 grant. That money is well spent as a contribution towards preventing later problems.

I turn now to pre-school provision. The Government recognise the benefits which can be derived from good provision for the under-fives, and especially for those who have special educational needs or who are socially disadvantaged. The various needs of children and their families call for a range of provision— day nurseries, nursery classes and playgroups, with different modes of attendance: sessional, part-time and full-time. Thus, we encourage the present diversity of provision, in which the state, voluntary and private sectors all play an important part. We have made it clear that we would like to see a widening of nursery and pre-school provision as resources become available. Our longer-term ambition is availability for all those who want it.

Much has already been achieved. Over half of our three and four year-olds now attend maintained nursery and primary schools, and over 90 per cent. receive some form of pre-school provision. That figure compares well with most other countries, particularly when one also takes into account that this country is almost alone in providing universal free education from the age of five; in many other countries compulsory schooling starts at six or seven.

I now return to the subjects of marriage and family. The Government are committed to marriage and family. We recognise that many marriages break down. It is clear that when a marriage breaks down and there are children of the marriage, they are very vulnerable to consequent upset and damage.

After a divorce it is important that both parents continue to take responsibility for their children, and that those children are looked after well on a daily basis by at least one parent, who is loving and capable of giving emotional support and supervision. They must ensure that the children are healthy and that they attend school. A child's development is greatly influenced by the relationship with and also between his parents. In a recently published Consultation Paper the Government focus the debate on the need for a divorce process which would be better at identifying marriages which can be saved and would emphasise the importance of taking all practicable steps to prevent irretrievable breakdown.

Where, regrettably, divorce is inevitable then the Government believe that the system should ensure that people are made to realise the consequences of this for themselves and their children before they are committed to it. The Government believe that the system should seek to eliminate unnecessary distress for all the family and so help a continuation of family life post divorce, even though perhaps both parents are not living together.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, said in her maiden speech that she would like to see divorce made harder to come by. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, talked about children being affected badly by divorce. Divorce is never easy. It is a difficult time for the couple and their children. At the moment three-quarters of all divorces are obtained on the grounds of adultery or unacceptable behaviour, neither of which require any waiting period, unlike the two-year ground for separation. One of the proposals in the Government's Green Paper is for divorce after a waiting period of perhaps twelve months. If this proposal were to be adopted, divorce would be harder for the majority of those seeking it in the sense that they could not obtain a decree as quickly as they can at present.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, how long does the noble Viscount think a divorce takes in any event, even if it is on the grounds of adultery or unpardonable conduct?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the point I wished to make was that there could be a longer waiting period which could be used to try to save a marriage if possible and, where divorce is inevitable, to sort out the issues which inevitably arise in divorce cases. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has published a paper and I am sure that he will consider all the responses that he receives. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is also conducting a wide-ranging review of the family justice system with the objective of creating, in stages, a single family justice system applying a single body of substantive law. 'The aims are to ensure that the interests of children are given priority, that the personal responsibility of parents for their families is emphasised and that the system for hearing and deciding family cases is improved and rationalised, making the most effective use of existing court and judicial resources. The aim is to match cases to the most appropriate level of court and to remove from the courts functions which could be more effectively dealt with elsewhere.

The Children Act is probably the most comprehensive legislation in the world. It asserts both parents' continuing responsibility towards children arid the right of children to be cared for and heard. It was described by Labour's Commission for Social Justice as an outstanding piece of legislation. Many noble Lords who are here today took part in the debates in this House during the Bill's passage. The Children Act seeks to achieve a fair balance between promoting the welfare and safety of children and respecting the rights and responsibilities of parents to bring up their children as they wish. It has recast the law on protecting children at risk to ensure that, where necessary, effective protective action can be taken within a framework of proper safeguards of parents' rights.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the Minister is very kind to allow me to intervene. He dealt most helpfully with the question of the unitary system of dealing with families, especially in regard to matrimonial problems. He talked of the family court. In the presence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, I hope I may ask,"How long Oh Lord, how long"?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, earlier this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, suggested that we establish a family court. I must remind the noble Lord that the Children Act provides in effect a single jurisdiction. It allows flexibility for allocating cases to the appropriate level of court. More importantly, all cases involving children are now dealt with by specially trained members of the judiciary at all levels. However, I take note of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made.

We have had a number of debates in your Lordships' House on the Child Support Act. I do not intend to go over any of the same ground today. However, I should say that we believe it is right that those who have fathered children should be expected to face up to the responsibilities involved. We are not going back on that principle. I am glad that, in the debates we have had in this House, noble Lords opposite have supported the Government on that point.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked me about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which provides for a new sentence comprising secure training orders to deal with persistent 12 to 14 year-old offenders. Under the order the juvenile will be detained in secure accommodation, and after release put under supervision in the community. These places are to be provided for only 200 of the most troublesome and troubled juveniles in the country. Decisions on the location of the units are still to be made.

We have had a wide-ranging and interesting debate and all noble Lords have agreed that we all believe in the importance of the family as the bedrock of our society. We want to promote and strengthen the family; to encourage families to fulfil their responsibilities and to provide a sound framework in which they can do so. We recognise that the family unit faces new difficulties because of increased mobility and increasing demands at work. As society becomes more complex and more sophisticated, there are new pressures apart from parents' and children's increasing expectations of each other and of the life that they wish to live in the future.

However, it is not all bad news. For example, much improved transport and communication helps keep separated families in touch. But the family, in whatever form it takes, needs our continuing support. The Government's commitment to the family is shown by our policies, and the effects of those policies show the current general well-being of families in this country. I believe that is the case. Some noble Lords have mentioned that. In many areas the family is strong in this country. Currently families are healthier and financially more secure than in the past. They have more choices. They have more choice in where they live and in the local services they receive. They have more choice in how they spend their money, more choice in the type of health care they receive and in the type of education their children receive. We do not claim to have all the answers but we are clear about the importance of the family. During the International Year of the Family and beyond we will continue to strengthen our commitment to the family.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, is the noble Viscount going to sit down without saying anything about the outstanding recommendation of the Law Commission to improve the rights of the married woman in the matrimonial home, particularly as they stand in striking contrast to the superior rights vouchsafed on divorce?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I must admit that the noble and learned Lord has asked me a question for which I am not entirely prepared. I will study carefully what he has said in Hansard and, if he will allow me, write to him shortly.

Lord Rix: My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, will be tell me whether I am to take away no comfort at all in this International Year of the Family for parents and families who have a disabled member of their family, in regard to respite care, day services and the services provided for those with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities? I regret to say that I heard no reference to any of those points in the noble Viscount's reply.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I tried to cover the majority of the points made by your Lordships this afternoon. It is not possible to cover every single point. I answered the noble Lord, Lord Rix, with a general answer about the amounts of money that the Government have committed to the social security budget, to the budget of the Department of Health and to our many programmes. I hope that he will accept that the question he asked is a detailed one. We have discussed the matter on occasions in the past and I am sure that we shall discuss it again in more detail in the future.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

My Lords, it is not my intention to trespass upon the courtesy of the House for too long, but I should like to make one or two points. First, perhaps I may join with other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Baroness, Lady Dacre, on their maiden speeches. They added considerably to our wide-ranging debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, seemed sensitive to one or two of the points I made about poverty in families. That is understandable as he was one of the architects of the economic policy at the beginning of the 1980s which resulted in many of the examples of poverty I gave. The noble Lord advised the Government that they should not flinch from taking economic decisions. I accept that. I shall certainly not flinch from continuing to press the point that economic success must be linked with social justice.

I did not press for a return to a penal tax system. Indeed, it is not on this side of the House that there is talk of going backwards. We want to go forwards. For us the recent period has been something of a nightmare. We want to see progress in this country. What I said in that respect was misunderstood.

Perhaps I may address a couple of points which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised. He talked about the UK having family credit as if it were a justification for the elimination of wages councils. That is very interesting. Do the Government advocate, and do they have a policy in place to the effect, that employers can pay the lowest poverty wages they wish because we have a system whereby the state subsidises employers who choose to exploit their employees without the underpinning of minimum wages?

A few weeks ago the UN emergency fund issued a report which, much to our shame, stated that the position of children in poverty in Britain was worse today than it was 20 years ago. That is linked with poverty in the family.

Finally, I turn to the issue of childcare. I accept that the noble Viscount tried to answer the question by giving important and useful information. I am grateful to him for that. However, that does not get away from the fact that childcare provision in Britain is close to the bottom of the league in Europe. When one sets that against the fact that we have the highest number of working mothers apart from Denmark it is not good enough.

The debate has been interesting and wide ranging. I thank noble Lords for participating. Families in Britain will be watching what we do in this next year to assist them to face the pressures confronting them. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.