HL Deb 23 February 1994 vol 552 cc701-18

7.43 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they interpret the phrase "traditional family values".

The noble Earl said: My Lords, after the last Conservative Party conference the Prime Minister appeared to have emerged with a rallying cry to the nation. In fact, there were two rallying cries in one. There was "back to basics". Everyone knows that that is total nonsense. No one can make head or tail of it. So we can disregard it in a serious discussion. The other rallying cry placed the emphasis on traditional family values, which is the subject of my Question tonight.

In that regard I am anxious to form a good opinion of the Government. However, I do not believe that that will be easy, particularly after the speech delivered by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in his charming manner only moments ago. He seemed to imply that there are sonic awful tendencies in society and that there is nothing that the Government can do about it. However, I should like to form the best opinion possible of this Government of ours.

Of course, the Prime Minister soon began to run away from the phrase "traditional family values" when confronted with same awkward peccadillos or worse among his Ministers. He began to say that it had nothing to do with personal morality.

My theme tonight is very simple. It is one with which I am sure everyone, Christian, Jewish— a notable speech was delivered by a Jewish friend of mine earlier— or humanist, would agree; namely, that personal morality lies at the heart of traditional family values. Otherwise the concept of traditional family values is as silly and as meaningless as the concept of back to basics. The noble Viscount has had notice of what I shall ask him. Will he be able to make any sense of the concept?

In addition to being used by the Prime Minister, the phrase has been used still more by a gentleman called Sir Norman Fowler. His message was summed up by the Sun newspaper as: Carry on bonking— Fowler tells Tories". That was the mess age as understood by that staunchly Tory paper, the Sun. I am sure that many noble Lords besides myself read the Sun. I am a regular reader of the Sun, but I rarely agree with it. However, I agreed entirely with its rebuke of Sir Norman Fowler. Incidentally, I notice that he voted in favour of hanging a day or two ago, so he is obviously a very tough gentleman. But that does not help us to understand what the Prime Minister could have meant by traditional family values or what we ourselves mean by it.

About a fortnight ago I took part in a debate at the Oxford Union on this subject. We won the motion in favour of traditional family values, no doubt due more to the exertions of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and that brilliant journalist and writer, Mary Kenny, than to anything I said or did. I was originally asked to speak against traditional family values. There may be Members of the House who have been married longer than I have, but I should not like to bet on such a matter. I have been married for 62 years. I have had eight children,26 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. To ask me to speak against traditional family values seemed to represent a poor view of my intellect. If the charming president of the union reads these words I hope that she will not think that my admiration for her is diminished. She agreed to allow me to speak in favour of traditional family values and, as I said, mainly through the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, Mary Kenny and others, we triumphed.

Why did the president of the Oxford Union think that I would speak against family values? She may have heard that I am a feminist. As I have said in the House, I am an unreconstructed feminist, except in the case of abortion. In this House I was the only Roman Catholic who took part in the debate on the ordination of women in the Church of England. I spoke up for the ordination of women in the Church of England and indicated my support for it in my own Church. I predicted that it would not be very long before we Roman Catholics also had women priests. The president may have heard about that and thought that as a feminist I would be against traditional family values.

When I say that I am a feminist I mean that I consider that men and women are created equal in the sight of God and must be treated as such both in public life and in the home. Many feminists might draw strange conclusions from that statement. However, I believe that feminism goes hand in hand with good family life.

The president may also have thought that since I have been a member of the Labour Party for more than half a century, I would be against any traditions. I am not in favour of all traditions but only of some. Perhaps you might ask whether, in the course of my over-lengthy existence, I have noticed any great improvements or declines. I would answer that there has been a great improvement in the condition of the poor. Certainly 50 years ago the poor were far worse off than now. That is not unique in Britain. It has occurred with the advance of technology and such skills in all Western countries. Certainly the poor are much better off. However, what was significant until 14 years ago, before the introduction of the Thatcher regime, was that there was a steady redistribution of wealth in favour of the poorer section. That occurred under Conservative and Labour ministries until 1979.

In the golden years described so glowingly and misleadingly by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, the position has been reversed: there has been a steady redistribution in favour of the rich. There is no getting away from that fact. Nevertheless, over the past 50 years there has undoubtedly been great social progress and all parties have contributed in their own way. I believe that my party contributed the most but that is no doubt a partisan view. That is a great improvement.

On the other hand, crime has increased enormously. When I became a prison visitor in Oxford in the late 1930s there were 10,000 people in prison. Now the number is about 50,000. No one can regard that as other than an extremely unhappy phenomenon. Divorces have multiplied by roughly 20 times in the same period. Again, I do not believe that anyone can be proud of that fact. I certainly see it as a step downhill. No pseudo-statistician will convince me that there is no connection between the great increase in crime and the enormous increase in divorce. It is one of those factors that one can never prove; but it is fairly obvious in my eyes that there is some connection somewhere. Some people say— I am not among them— that the increase is due to the liberalisation of the divorce laws. Here I am on rather shaky ground in the sight of the Almighty. I was an election agent for A. P. Herbert when he was elected for Oxford. The first thing that he did— I should have foreseen it; I was not a candidate at the time— was to introduce a Bill which started the movement for freer divorce.

Leaving aside that personal detail, I believe that the enormous increase in divorce is an unhappy aspect of British life. I do not believe that it is due to the liberalisation of laws, but to some deeper reason: the decline in sexual morality. It is very odd that in such discussions no one likes to mention sex. Perhaps it is a good sign of healthy reticence.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Earl really believe that people do not like to talk about sexual matters? On reading the press and listening to controversy, one's impression is that people talk of very little else. It seems an extraordinary statement to make.

While I am on my feet— I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl— will he comment on this point? He states that there is a great increase in divorce. That, of course, is true. However, we do not know how many marriages broke up, yet there could not be a formal divorce because women were not able to earn enough money to keep themselves if they left their husbands.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I do not think much of that last point, if I may say so. Everyone knows that there has been a large increase in the number of divorces. It is a 20-fold increase. Perhaps in some marriages that have broken up, the people involved fare better for having done so. I admit that more than one of my children are divorced and have made happy second marriages. Therefore I do not say that every divorce is disastrous. I simply say that, taking the figures as a whole, that 20-fold increase, along with the great increase in crime, is a deplorable phenomenon.

What do I mean when I refer to a great sexual decline? Some people might regard it as a great sexual advance. These are matters of opinion. What is morality? No one doubts that sex before marriage, in particular among the young, is more common than it was many years ago. That is a fact. Some people might say, "Good show. It's a more liberal regime. If they like it, they get on with it", and so on. Presumably that was the message of Sir Norman Fowler to the Tory Party. However, I regard the decline in sexual morals as a disastrous feature of life. That is my opinion. Others will have to speak for themselves.

How do I link all those factors together? I say that sex before marriage makes it more likely that there will be adultery afterwards. Adultery afterwards makes it more likely that there will be a broken home. A broken home makes it more likely that there will be crime. Many years ago, with much expert advice, I wrote a book on the causes of crime. The broken home was then picked up as the main, obvious factor for the increase in crime. That is my submission. I believe that there has been a decline in sexual morals. If we are to stand for traditional family values, we must try to reverse that decline.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, stated that there was no question of the Government trying to reverse the trends. He did not speak of them with approbation or disapprobation. He described certain trends which seem to me to be quite disastrous. They do not fit with the speech that the Prime Minister made at the Conservative Party conference. There is no possible coherence between the measure delivered today by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and what the Prime Minister said last October.

However, we must take life as we find it and ask ourselves what are the main essential elements in traditional family values. I believe that we can all agree — perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will agree— that fidelity and love can be regarded as acceptable to all. I agree that they do not always occur together, but by and large if they occur together it is more likely to be a happy home. It is more likely that the marriage will last and that the children will be brought up in an atmosphere of security and love. I do not say that it is inevitable; I say that it is much more likely.

We therefore have to ask ourselves whether there is any way of promoting those elements. The Government seemed anxious last year to promote traditional family values; they have run away from that issue since. But I hope that they will return to it through the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. I hope that he may have different advisers for this speech. That perhaps is too much to hope for but it could happen. I admire his gallantry in standing there on the burning deck. He has to face this problem. How on earth can he justify any statement that traditional family values do not involve personal morality?

I shall conclude by telling a story to show that I am not as bigoted as one or two people might begin to believe. I know that I have been fortunate in my marriage. It is a rather dangerous position to be in because I might be seen to be treating myself as wiser or kinder than others. In no way is that so. Perhaps I may give an example of family values in a very different context. Not long ago, I visited two prisoners. One was serving 14 years in prison and the other has been in and out of prison for the past 15 years, since he was a boy of 15. The man serving the 14 years has a wife; the other has a partner 'who is not married to him. They both have children. The wife and the partner are sticking by the men through thick and thin. So is their mother who is a woman in appalling health.

It is a completely tragic scene. The father committed suicide when the, elder son received the 14-year sentence. That is a family with fidelity and love but in an unconventional setting. I am not saying that fidelity and love can only be found in marriage, I merely express the hope that everyone here, their children and their grandchildren, will have long and happy marriages. That said, I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to find some words with which to recognise that personal morality is involved, there is no doubt about it; otherwise the concept is nonsensical and it ought never to have been raised.

8 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing this important subject this evening. One of the important traditional family values is a rather obvious one which seems to have been somewhat neglected by a large number of people during the past 30 years. It is simply the duty of a husband and wife to stay together and to fulfil their responsibility to their children. We hear many parents talking today about their rights, but much more important is the right of the children to be brought up properly by both parents living together, committed to a lasting relationship.

It became fashionable in the 1960s to believe that it was better for children if their parents separated and divorced if they were not getting on. That view was propagated by people who appeared on the surface to be clever, but there was never any good evidence at all for it. In fact, a recent survey at Exeter University by Dr. Monica Cockett and Dr. John Tripp showed that children whose families are subject to a series of disruptions are much more likely to have social, educational and health problems than those whose families remain together. In this careful study, which had a sound statistical basis, the main conclusions were as follows: children whose families had been "re-ordered"— that is the new phrase but I think it is better to say children whose families had been "disrupted" — by separation or divorce were more likely than children from intact families to have health problems, more likely to need extra help at school and much more likely 0 suffer from low self-esteem. Where children had experienced three or more different family structures, the outcomes were generally worse than for those living with a lone parent or in a step-family.

Although severe marital conflict and financial hardship were associated with poor outcomes for children, family disruptions, divorces and separations appeared to be the main adverse factor in children's lives. Less than half the children in the disrupted families had regular contact with the non-resident parent and many did not even know where their non-resident parent was living. So it seems that the evidence is pretty good.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, we have had this argument before. How did the study assess normal families? Did the investigators look at families who had awful trouble in the home but who stayed together, or did they simply take normal families who were staying together because they liked it?

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords,1: thank the noble Lord for asking that question. It gives me the opportunity to expand a little. What the members of the study did was to take a series of children from disrupted homes and match them in six ways with children from intact families. They compared them by interviewing them in depth. They were surprised at the amount of co-operation that they received. In fact, it transpired that children brought up in intact families were four times more likely to have successful outcomes than those from disrupted families. If we compare them with children in families where the parents did not get on well but who stayed together, the children in intact families were twice as likely to have a good outcome. That is how it was done.

I think the work was fairly sound and it was supported by the Rowntree Foundation. It was carried out by reputable people. It was a pilot study which needs to be expanded.

The family is an institution that societies in general have abandoned at their peril, indeed, it is an institution that has outlasted many of those societies themselves. The values that we learn from our family life are those that we should take into the community as a whole. They are values such as honesty, integrity, courtesy, decency, a respect for other people, respect for their property and a commitment to them: do unto others as you would they should do unto you.

I know that noble Lords will share my concerns about the way in which Members of this House and another place have been pilloried and attacked by the national media and others for difficulties which they have had in their own family life. A witch-hunt is not the appropriate way to help those people. Incidentally, those who point the finger at other people would do well to look at the hand that is pointing; while there is one finger pointing at the accused, there are three fingers pointing back at the accuser. Such hypocrisy was roundly condemned by our Lord, who was presented with a lady taken in adultery. People wanted to carry, out the usual treatment, stoning her to death— treatment that is still prescribed today in some places. Noble Lords will remember that for a time our Lord wrote in the sand and at first refused to give them an answer. I have often wondered what He was writing in the sand; there are many theological suggestions. I myself feel that, as He must have been an immensely attractive person with a great sense of humour, He was writing in the sand the names of former girlfriends of those self-righteous accusers. As they came round to look at what He was writing, they must have been acutely embarrassed to see names from the past like Miriam, Mary or even Jezebel.

One of the areas in which much has been done to further the development of traditional family values is that of sex education. The kind of sex education that I think should be taught would be done within a framework of moral values which stresses the importance of personal responsibility. I commend to the House a recent video that has been produced and which was launched on St. Valentine's Day. It was called "Make Love Last" and encourages children to consider the possibility that having sex is a choice. They can choose either way, they do not have to be driven by the pressure of society. That is a valid choice and the young must be presented with the option and not feel pressurised into it. The video is made for today's audience and is fairly hard-hitting. I very much hope that the Department for Education will make every effort to endorse this excellent production. It is making a valid contribution to the subject.

I believe, with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the answer to many of our problems in society as a whole lies in individuals returning to traditional family values. If we do not return to them, we shall be in danger of our society sliding into a much more unpleasant and chaotic state.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for asking this important Question. I must say that I do not envy my old friend the noble Viscount having to answer two such similar debates on the same day. I personally fear that, sadly, traditional family values are in this country a thing of the past.

As we have heard and others have mentioned, particularly in the earlier debate this afternoon, for every two marriages there is now one divorce. One in three children is born out of wedlock. The crime rate is soaring and in 1981 there were just over 3 million identifiable crimes. Ten years on, that figure has jumped to an horrific 6.25 million crimes.

Why do I believe that traditional family values are a thing of the past? It is, I fear, because standards everywhere have fallen. We only have to look around outside to see the appalling standard of dress, to listen to the terrible language everywhere. Only last week I walked behind two workmen on my way to the tube on leaving your Lordships' House. I am not exaggerating when I say that every other word began with an "f" or a "b".

I totally fail to understand why there is such an outcry that Members of another place did not lower the age of consent between consenting gays. There is as a result a belief that the age for those indulging in heterosexual sex ought to be increased to 18. Surely we ought to encourage young people to realise that sex is not a game. Surely its rightful place is in marriage. Whatever age you get married, that presumably is the time to contemplate sex. When I was 16 and was at school with the noble Viscount I honestly do not think that we probably knew what sex was all about. I see the noble Viscount, Lord Long, shaking his head. Perhaps times were different in his day. I remember so well being told that sex before marriage was similar in principle— and I emphasise "in principle"— to opening one's Christmas presents before Christmas.

Your Lordships' House is perhaps the last bastion of courtesy and good manners which prevails in society today. I even have to hasten to add, "when tempers are high". I have often been quick to blame the Government but I do not think that it is their fault that traditional family values no longer exist. But, with encouragement from those involved in education and the Church, and with encouragement from parents, I think that standards can and must be raised. So many of us have forgotten what is right and what is wrong. That, I think, is tremendously due to the pressure that we are all under from all aspects of the media. I appreciate that it is difficult to explain to a family which might well be of third generation unemployment.

By raising standards everywhere throughout society I feel that we ought to be able to restore traditional family values. St. Luke wrote in his Gospel, Chapter 6: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them". If more of us followed that line, I cannot help but believe that we would be living in a much more caring and respectable society. Does the noble Viscount agree that his Government ought to encourage such an attitude?

8.13 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for putting down his Unstarred Question this evening and giving us the opportunity to debate these crucial issues. The noble Earl asks Her Majesty's Government how they interpret the phrase "traditional family values". And well he might. When the Prime Minister announced his "back to basics" crusade at the party conference, he not only succeeded in uniting his party; he inspired the whole nation with a new rallying point. His call for the restoration of "old core values", for self discipline, for respect for the family and for what he called "back to basics right across the board" was acclaimed and widely interpreted as a timely call for higher moral standards both in private and public life. It was a vision which drew a response from the whole nation: 1994 would be the year of revival. It was a god-given opportunity to speak the word of God to the nation, to seek a return to more godly ways in family matters, in education, in entertainment, in TV and on video, in business and in medical practice.

There is a great need today for leaders to speak out fearlessly in church and in Parliament, in school and on TV, in the press and in the home, and to say, "We have had enough. We've gone far enough, some would say too far, from God's word and his ways. We need to go back".

It seemed that that was what the Prime Minister was saying at the party conference. But, as the heat in the kitchen began to rise, to our dismay he said that that was not what he meant at all; that he meant something different. By that time the country was confused, Parliament was confused, the Government were confused and even the Cabinet was confused. One could tell that because there were mighty pronouncements from different members of the Cabinet, all saying different things, all giving their interpretations of what the Prime Minister might or might not have meant.

The dictionary defines an orphan as, "a child bereft of either father or mother". If that is so, then Britain is becoming a nation of orphans. The Bible makes it clear that God holds the father responsible for the teaching and discipline of the children. Children feel unloved and abandoned when the father is not there. Boys need fathers to teach them how to be men and how to take responsibility for their own children. The evidence is overwhelming that the absence of a responsible father figure has a profound effect on young males.

A further deception has been in the field of AIDS. In 1988 AIDS was described as "the greatest threat to public health this century", with 100,000 new cases each year forecast by the mid-1990s. Dr. Gordon Stewart, Professor Emeritus of Public Health in Glasgow and a former World Health Organisation adviser on AIDS now tells us that in the past decade £ 700 million has been spent on AIDS research in Britain; and he feels that much of that has been misspent on misleading propaganda and on misdirected research. He advises, We should take the sentimentality out of AIDS and recognise that the disease is, with a few exceptional cases, directly caused by the behaviour of the victim. If we do that, it would be better for all concerned". It seemed to me that, if the Government were set on going back to basics, they missed a wonderful opportunity to show the country that they meant what they said. In my judgment what they should have done was advise the people of this country that if they really wanted to avoid AIDS and meant business then they should be chaste before marriage and faithful within it. That was a pronouncement that they could have made. I have no doubt that it would have had the full support of the Church. It is medically correct, and I was greatly disappointed that the Government did not have the moral courage to make a statement of that order.

In his book The Decay of Marriage, George Brown points out that, A healthy national economy and a healthy family life are complementary. The family is the mortar which holds the fabric of society together. If it crumbles, then society collapses". Both the family and the economy are fragile today and might not be far from collapse.

That children should be brought up in a family was ordained by God from the beginning. A healthy national family life is central to the social, economic and moral well-being of any nation. Yet we continue to adopt policies which strike at the very heart of our national family life. Since the 1960s, righteous laws, once based upon the law given to Moses for our protection, have been disappearing from British law. An urgent review of all legislation and administrative practices which have a bearing on the structure of the family is needed. Those which threaten the family need to be reversed; those which strengthen it need to be reinforced and extended. In short, a new legal system is needed which favours marriage and family life. There is indeed a need to get "back to basics".

8.20 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I join in the thanks that have been widely expressed to the noble Earl for giving us this opportunity to debate traditional family values. I have no idea how Her Majesty's Government interpret that phrase and therefore will listen with all the more interest to the reply.

I agree with many of the sentiments and ideas expressed by the two previous speakers, but I cannot quite share either their optimism or the pessimism. What I can try to do tonight is to explain the family values in which I grew up and in which I continue to believe. Such values may well be by now those of a minority, but I believe that their existence and survival is a positive contribution to the common good of society.

Such values go beyond individualism and are deeply rooted in the intangible and spiritual values which help to distinguish humanity from even the highest of animals. It seems to me that values of the kind that I hope to describe go beyond utilitarianism and may, by incorporating age-old wisdom, in the long run provide greater general well-being than the philosophy just mentioned.

Let me start with two values that relate to sexuality. The first is chastity before marriage and the second is life-long fidelity within marriage. Many will argue that neither of those things is possible. Some will say that no one should be expected to keep to such standards. Certainly they are not easy. All I can say from my own experience is that they are possible. I was 34 at the time of my marriage and had not had a previous sexual relationship. While I cannot in any way rival or compete with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in longevity, numbers of family and such things, I can say that my wife and I have been married for nearly 28 years in mutual faithfulness.

I come to what is probably a less controversial family value; namely, the responsibility of parents for their children, at least from birth until adulthood. That is still generally accepted even though it is perhaps beginning to be eroded by overmuch stress on children's rights. Nevertheless, a distressingly large number of children have to be taken into care each year by local authorities. Many need adoption or long or short-term fostering. I am sure that we are all aware that serious problems often occur when young people come out of care aged 16 or more and have to cope with an unfriendly and lonely world without the support of family members.

Respect for elders can be seen as the opposite side of the coin of parental responsibility. That traditional value is clearly threatened at a time when we hear almost daily of granny-bashing, the rape of elderly women and theft and robbery from pensioners. Following the European Year of Older People I very much hope that arrangements will be made to enable the older generation from their experience and wisdom to contribute to society in general. Their contribution could be particularly valuable by passing on manual, musical, cultural and other skills to a generation largely reared on television. Such know-how could provide an important antidote to boredom, which all too often leads to crime. Such increased interaction between the generations will tend to improve respect for elders.

Family solidarity was and still is a natural extension of the values of parental responsibility and respect for elders. It was most noticeable in old-fashioned extended families but it has not completely disappeared among the cousins and kinsfolk of more modern nuclear families. Your Lordships, many being heads of families, may wish to see the principle of family solidarity encouraged and extended as widely as possible. However, it is necessary to be aware that today's society includes many quite untraditional families. It has been mentioned already in the debate that there are many split or one-parent families. There are numerous second and third marriages with children who may be described as "his", "hers" or "theirs". Social policy has to take account of the existence of such families.

In that context I do not feel that it is helpful to have a government agency attempting to revise in a major way the decisions of courts concerning divorce, custody and maintenance. I suggest that it would be better for the initiative to lie with the courts themselves and for their decisions to be properly enforced.

There is one other kind of would-be family on which I should like to comment briefly and that is the stable homosexual couple. I disagree most strongly with the recent resolution of the European Parliament asking that homosexual couples should have all the legal rights of married heterosexual couples. The parliament is asking too much; for example, particularly in relation to adoption. One can understand the desire of homosexual couples to perpetuate themselves by adopting. However, such a procedure would be manifestly unjust to the child, which is entitled to nurture from a father and a mother if that can in any way be provided. The interest of the child, as British law now lays down very clearly, must be allowed to prevail.

I have no doubt that many of the values to which I am attached are unpopular, at any rate outside the circle of those who have spoken tonight. Very often they go against the spirit of the age and some of the trends of society. I believe that the values outlined are interlocking and support each other. Therefore they deserve careful study and examination. I am most grateful to have had the opportunity and the freedom to state them quite openly.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate. Indeed, it has been an unusual day. For five hours we have talked more about people and values than we have spoken about money. That is both agreeable and bracing.

Tonight, my noble friend Lord Longford championed the virtues of fidelity and love. They are words not heard daily in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, stressed the importance of parents staying together to bring up their children as a moral duty. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, spoke of the need to raise our moral standards. He mentioned the Church and education. He used words such as "right" and "wrong".

Those are strong words, which have no monetary value in them. The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, talked of a revival and a return to godliness. I wish the right reverend prelates had stayed to hear what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, reminded us of the values of chastity, fidelity, respect for elders and family solidarity.

However, in my submission there is one serious and central omission. In our society and time there is one dominating figure who, more than any other, represents and epitomises the traditional family values. That person is known and loved by millions of our countrymen. Her moral standards are admired, her principles are respected, and her devotion to her nuclear and extended family is an example to us all. I refer, of course, to Nellie Boswell.

If any noble Lords have momentarily forgotten who Nellie Boswell is, perhaps I may remind them that she is the central character in Carla Lane's long-running television comedy series entitled "Bread". Played by the actress Jean Boht, she is the mother in a Roman Catholic Liverpool family, who rules them with an iron rod. Grandpa lives next door, intolerant, senile and greedy. She feeds him, looks after him and rescues him when he wanders off. One of her sons is normally in gaol for some criminal offence; another is incapable of holding down a job running a sandwich round; a third makes a living exploiting every possibility of the social security system; and a fourth believes himself a major poet and cannot stain his artistic integrity with any vulgar toil. Her husband is an adulterer, conducting a permanent sexual liaison with Lilo Lil, in a shed on his allotment. Worst of all, for a Catholic mother, her only daughter, a failed fashion model, marries an Anglican vicar.

The family is characterised by a rich variety of crime, sin, and anti-social behaviour. Yet, with a sharp and witty tongue, a dominant personality, and an abundance of "tough love", she holds it together and chastises the sinners as they come for their dinner around the kitchen table. Carla Lane's scripts make "Bread" one of the funniest series in British television. But Nellie Boswell epitomises the one fundamental defining characteristic of the family worldwide: unity. She raises it to the status of a moral virtue. She would probably not know the opening of Psalm 133 in the Hebrew Scriptures, Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is: brethren, to dwell together in unity", but she and her family are a perfect illustration of it.

Unity, and loyalty to the unit, is the basic— if that word is not over-used— family virtue because it is rooted in the basic instinct for survival. The group is more likely to survive than the individual in a hostile world. The concept of loyalty to the unit is complex in the case of human society because humanity transcends animal instincts and includes moral judgments. One can, for example, identify certain behaviour patterns in a wolf pack and call them loyalties, but the pack itself is only following a leader out of an instinctive fear, greed, or self-interest. The concept of loyalty to an authority in a human family is less simple. To some extent a father is often the "pack leader" and loyalty is to him as the largest and strongest and to whatever he defines as the family unit. Conversely, it is women who create and sustain family groups, and sometime the mother's psychological dominance is the unifying feature of the group.

I mention all that simply to illustrate that we on these Benches do now take, and have always taken, family values seriously aid have based our political opinions upon them. The Labour Party is sometimes mocked and derided because at party conferences and the like we sometimes call each other "brother" or "sister" and address our remarks to "Brother Chair". I am not ashamed of that. It reminds us in a symbolic way that our party was founded on the ideal of brotherhood of all mankind, and for some of us at least, the idea of the fatherhood of God as well.

In the multicultural United Kingdom we can learn a great deal about family values from the other religions among us. The Jewish tradition has always reminded us, Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee". Shrewd advice! But— remembering that there are now more Moslems than Methodists in this country— we may add the words of the Holy Koran on the same subject. Chapter 4 states: Show kindness to both your parents and to your family, orphans and the needy". Chapter 16 states, God commands justice, kindness and giving to one's family". I cannot forbear to add that the Holy Koran also procoses: The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years' which some ladies might find tiresome, and painful, and which would not be to the taste of the manufacturers of baby foods.

As recently as this morning on BBC Radio's "Thought for the Day" Indarjit Singh emphasised the importance of family life, the equality of women and the significance of welding rituals in Sikkhism. We need those examples all the more when the Church of England is busy jettisoning its own wonderful words in the Book of Common Prayer, which speak of marriage as, ordained for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity". A marriage rooted in a religious faith is an obvious basic structure for the establishment of family values. But let us not forget that there are happy families where there is neither faith nor marriage. If your Lordships will pardon a personal example, my daughter is a health visitor on a huge estate in Sheffield. She tells me of one-parent families where there may be several children by as many fathers, all of whom have vanished like mist on the mountain, who are as happy as the day is long and are reared with love and care. There are others where the lone parent is helpless, hopeless, incapable of coping or caring, where the health service is the vital lifeline. The Secretary of State for Wales, who recently pontificated on this subject, seems not to know, and should be told, that there are no simple generalisations and no easy answers about contemporary family structures and that a one-parent family is not a matter for a blanket stigma.

My Lords, of your charity pray pardon this cross between a lecture and a sermon. It has been said that the Government must not get tangled up with matters of personal morality. And there is some truth in that. But government have a role and it has not yet been admitted and explained. In one of his novels P. G. Wodehouse describes afternoon tea on the lawn at Blandings Castle. There is a procession. At its head comes James, the first footman, carrying sandwiches; then comes John, the second footman, carrying cakes; next follows Jane, the maid, carrying the teapot on a tray. Finally, at the rear, comes Beach, the butler, who carries nothing, but simply lends tone. The Government have an indefinable but crucial duty to set the moral tone for the nation; to provide Nellie Boswell's kind of leadership for the citizens of this country; to set the example they wish us to follow. The family is not a no-go area for politicians, and politics is not above, beneath or beyond morality. Any government, of whatever party, must look to the future, and if our children ask bread, shall we give them a stone?

8.38 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that at his party conference they start their speeches with "brothers" or occasionally "sisters", but I suspect that that is now a rather politically incorrect term and so I shall just start with the other safe opening, "your Lordships".

"Traditional family values" is a most appropriate subject for debate in your Lordships' House and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating it. The noble Earl declared his interest and told us of his own large family. I cannot quite compare with him, with his many children and grandchildren, but I do have a wife, three children, two stepchildren, three sisters, a brother, a mother, a stepmother and, of course, not forgetting the three dogs. I hope that that is nearly enough to establish my credentials for the noble Earl.

The two debates today have provided us with an opportunity to talk about the changing role of the family and to consider family values in a very wide context. The word "traditional" is perhaps more difficult to pin down. I am told that there is an inscription on a Mesopotamian tablet which regrets that the world will degenerate because children no longer obey their parents. Nearly 4,000 years later we still hear the same tune.

The very nature of the family is under the microscope in the rapidly-changing work and social patterns that now confront us. Opinions may vary about what "family" means, but what we can all agree is that more than every before families matter. They are a powerful and unifying force that holds the fabric of our society together. We receive love and care from our families and offer in return support to those closest to us. And, of course, there are nearly seven million people in Great Britain who provide care for others who cannot manage at home without help because of old age, disability or chronic illness. Most of this care is provided by members of the dependent person's family. A key objective of the Government's recent community care reforms is to ensure that practical support for carers is a high priority. Above all, families care for children. In Great Britain, nearly seven million families with 12 million adults care for some 12 million children. All children need to be brought up with compassion and commonsense. They need a family structure to provide for their emotional, physical and spiritual development. The family's sense of security and identity enables them to develop into responsible and confident adults, ready to pass the same values on to their own children.

In this country families and citizens make their own family relationships. It is not for the Government to tell them how to go about it. We live in a diverse and multi-cultural society, with a consequent richness of family values. Government decisions on public services, taxation and benefits can influence the conditions under which family relationships grow and prosper. We believe strongly in the family, in the role and responsibilities of parents and their duties towards their children. Many of our most important decisions of recent years have reflected these basic values.

I make no apology for repeating that the Children Act 1989 is part of an important programme of family law reform. It is the most comprehensive legislation in the world for the protection of children. What it asserts is not just their right to be heard but their need for parents and the continuing responsibility of their parents towards them. This is based on love and care. It includes instilling respect, responsibility and knowing right from wrong. It seeks to balance the rights of parents to bring up their children in their own way and culture, while ensuring the protection and welfare of their children.

No one suggests that bringing up children is an easy business. Parents, particularly young ones, often need help from friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers and sometimes professionals. When such help is lacking — for example, if parents have moved away from where they grew up— the voluntary sector can and does take on this important role. The stresses and strains of family life can be great. They are faced by mothers— even those in prosperous suburbs— who can often feel lonely and isolated, and there are added difficulties for those in inner cities, those in poor housing and those with limited incomes.

I do not accept the premise that the poor are now worse off than under a Labour government. For example, a typical unemployed couple with two children receiving income support are £ 17 per week better off in real terms than in 1979. Since 1979 all incomes have risen across the board.

My right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in his last Budget important and widely-welcomed new financial help for parents, including lone parents, on low incomes who needed childcare in order to work. We set up the Child Support Agency to underline the financial responsibility of parents for their children even after separation or divorce. We have had two recent debates in this House on the Child Support Act, so I do not intend to go into these issues again in detail this evening.

It is right that the Government should pay attention to the growth in the numbers of lone parents. We have to take this seriously, particularly the growth in the numbers of young lone parents. I make it quite clear that the Government do not believe in censuring lone parents. We are fully committed to providing continuing support for lone parents and their children. Most lone parents would rather not be on their own. There are many reasons why lone parents find themselves in that situation. For the vast majority it is the result of death or marriage break-up, or a considered judgment that separation or divorce may be better for them. Most do a remarkable job of bringing up their children. But it must be better for children to be brought up in a loving relationship with both parents contributing to the task if that is possible. All of us who are parents know that bringing up children is a demanding task. It is also immensely rewarding. It is that much more demanding if your are on your own and there is no one with whom to share the responsibility and the joys. That is where local communities and voluntary groups can again be such a support.

The Government are determined to renew the framework of law which safeguards family life and empowers families to determine their own destinies. We recognise that there is a link between the role of parents and children's later delinquency. The Government have always regarded the family as having a crucial influence on young people's moral standards.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down will he say something about a question raised repeatedly throughout the debate; that is, fidelity in marriage as an essential factor in traditional family values? He has dealt with economics and social provision. While those are excellent subjects, he has not dealt with the debate at all.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I was just about to come to the point raised by the noble Earl.

We have just debated the United Nations International Year of the Family and our support for the family in this country. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, laid great stress in his speech on the sanctity of marriage and sexual morals. He said that sex before marriage increased the risk of adultery afterwards. I am not sure that there is any evidence to support that statement. There may be evidence to support the suggestion that couples who live together before they are married are more likely to break up. But the opinions of the noble Earl are a subjective moral judgment based on his own views on morality. However, I very much agree with him on his ideals of fidelity and love within marriage and the family.

Our attitudes are formed in different ways; by our upbringing, religious beliefs and to some degree through education. Education begins in the home and within the family and schools have to build on that. The Government believe that schools must take account of the culture and community in which they are set and must have their ethos underpinned by a set of values. Sex education, for example, is not exempt. It should deal with the values that pupils will need to develop if they are to enter adulthood equipped to handle personal relationships responsibly and morally. We must encourage the young to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.

It is right that we should reassert basic family values. It is also right that the Government should show an understanding arid humane attitude towards social change; in particular to the aspirations of women. In a powerful speech few months ago the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury rightly said that some societies which displayed admirably stable patterns of family life might exact a heavy price from their women.

The noble Earl said that back to basics could be disregarded. I do not believe that. It is too important.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, will the noble Viscount explain what possible meaning can be attached to it?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, if the noble Earl had allowed me I would have done exactly that. Back to basics is intended to ensure that government policies are based firmly on the commonsense values of the British people and, in particular, that they encourage individual responsibility. The back to basics policy is especially important in such areas as education, law and order, and the provision of public services, but it also applies across a range of other government policies. I can do no better than quote from an article written by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the Daily Express on 17th February: Like a good family, a great nation blends the wisdom and experience of the old with the vigour and challenge of the new. So don't let anyone tell you we cannot hold on to the essential values we care about. We can and we must. That is what 'back to basics' is about. It is not a moral crusade on personal morals in private. But it does have a moral dimension. It is concerned about responsibility for others and obligations to others. At the heart of this initiative is a fresh look at key areas of social policy— crime, education, social work and housing". If the noble Earl, Lord Longford, can read the Sun, I am sure that he can read the Daily Express. I am sure that he would benefit from reading the whole article in that newspaper, as of course would the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ashbourne that the Prime Minister's call at the Party Conference was well received. It was important then and it is still important now. The Government are clear about what we mean.

Each of us has our own and individual interpretation of traditional family values, based on our own traditions and culture, our own families and our own values. I agree with the noble Lord opposite that it s a pity there is no right reverend Prelate on the Bishop's Bench to participate in this debate. Here we have a debate on moral values and they are not here. That is a pity.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, in fairness to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, he had put down his name to speak in my debate, but as it was his maiden speech I believe that he was correctly advised that it would be better to make his speech in the earlier debate. I believe that to be an entirely reasonable decision on his part.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, if the noble Earl had been here and had listened to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate, he would have seen that the Bishop's Bench was actually overflowing with bishops today. It is a pity that one of them was unable to stay, but perhaps they had more important things to do.

We do not believe that it is for the Government to lay down and prescribe what these values should be. The Government's role is to empower families to help themselves. This Government's policy is to give back to families and people their schools, their health care, their houses, their opportunities and their responsibilities.

We are all agreed that families matter, They are responsible for bringing up our children and providing the essential and loving care for the sick and the elderly. We know that when people are encouraged to manage their own lives and make their own family arrangements, they gain self respect, pride in their achievements and thus family values are strengthened, communities are strengthened and the country is strengthened.

House adjourned at eight minutes before nine o'clock.