HL Deb 01 February 1995 vol 560 cc1495-525

3.4 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

rose to call attention to the case for addressing the problems of juvenile crime, delinquency and truanting by making available co-ordinated education and support for young parents, and prospective parents; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope to convince your Lordships this afternoon that crime and unemployment, major scourges of our society, could both be substantially reduced if every child received the kind of "good enough" parenting which it needs and to which it is entitled. Professor Donald West, who is professor of criminology at Cambridge University, speaking recently at a seminar concluded: There is a vital link between the emotional well-being of children and the rising tide of juvenile crime". In his well-known study, Crime and the Family, published in 1993 by the Family Policy Studies Centre, David Utting came to the same conclusion: there is a link between crime and early experience in the family. Helena Kennedy QC, a leading barrister dealing with children's cases, recently said: We spend £1,500 million each year locking people up in prison, which is usually at the end of a process which starts with problems in childhood. A relatively small investment in family support, and mental health services for children, would revolutionise the Criminal Justice System. For the past quarter of a century, recorded crime figures in England and Wales have risen on average by around 5 per cent. per year. Violent crime is on the increase. Much of that criminal activity is by young people. Almost half of all male offenders known to the police are under 21, and 20 per cent. are under 17.

I believe that your Lordships will agree that unemployment is one of the most important predisposing causes of crime. Particularly for men, unemployment leads not only to poverty but also to humiliation. In this country today we have 2.4 million people unemployed, of whom 1.8 million are men.

In today's global market low skills mean low wages or unemployment. Today, education and training are more important than they have ever been. Yet some of this country's children are not getting the education that they need. We know that some schools are not as good as they should be, but there is a much more important reason; namely, that some children arrive at school without the emotional and social skills which they need to settle down and to learn.

There is a specific set of social and emotional characteristics which are essential for a child when he or she starts school. These have been called by American workers, the emotional foundations of school readiness". It seems that those first days at primary school may well be the most important days in a child's life. During those days he either discovers that he is able to get on with other children—to become part of the group, can settle down to work and relate to teachers—or he discovers that he cannot cope with relationships with other children, he does not trust the teachers, he does not accept that there are boundaries to reasonable behaviour, and he is bored by work which he cannot understand. Such children reject school. They switch off and refuse to try to learn and they usually become disruptive. Later, they turn to truanting. Last year, 12 per cent. of all school children in primary and secondary schools in this country truanted for 12 or more half days in the year.

In that context, the importance of pre-school education was recognised by the National Commission on Education chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who, unfortunately, cannot be in his place today due to an appointment in the north country. The Government have also recognised the importance of pre-school education and have committed themselves to making it available to every child over four years of age. It is indeed true that pre-school education can help some children, but often, by the time a child gets to four years old, self-defeating attitudes and social rejection are already ingrained. Problems of emotional disturbance and failure to settle down in school have been shown to be caused by early childhood experience. The roots of the problem go back to the child's life in the family before he goes to school.

Recent research suggests that children seek to make sense of their environment even in the first months of their life. It is then that they first find their efforts encouraged—or not. It is then that they first conclude that the world seems organised and reasonably predictable—or not. It is then that they first learn that adults near to them are basically supportive—or not. Through simple, everyday actions, children learn very clearly whether their needs are important to their parents, whether their effort is supported, whether promises will be kept and whether they are loved. It is in the first three years of life that the foundations for later learning are laid down. Hence the enormous importance of parenting.

So why are some parents failing to give their children the kind of support in the early years that they need? In July last year the all-party parliamentary group for parenting, of which some of your Lordships are members, and the body representing the International Year of the Family jointly held four parliamentary hearings in another place. Some of the conclusions of those hearings are interesting in this context. One was that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We can all subscribe to that. What children need is simply "good enough" parenting.

Another point which was made was that nearly all parents want to be good parents when they start out. But many, when they start out, have no idea of the difficulties and sacrifices involved. Stress is a major cause of inadequate parenting. Stress may be caused by the breakdown of family relationships or by external factors such as unemployment, poverty, debt, alcohol, violence and so forth. Young lone parents are of course particularly vulnerable. Loneliness and lack of self-confidence are common causes of inadequate parenting. All parents need help at some time. Do not we all know that? Traditional mechanisms in society today—such as grandparents, the extended family and so forth—are not always in place. We have to create a society in which it is realised that there is no shame in asking for help.

I believe that it is not helpful to blame inexperienced parents, especially when they are trying to do their best. What they need is help. With just a little help a vastly greater number of parents could be "good enough" parents. The good news is that it is possible to help parents. We know this because it is being done successfully across the country, here and there, by voluntary organisations and by some local authorities.

I decided to become involved in the issue of parenting in October 1993 and since then I have been contacted by over 140 different voluntary bodies working in this field. In addition there are the local authorities. Much excellent work is being done, but it needs to be greatly extended and to be put on a more permanent, secure and nationwide footing. Examples of the kind of things that are being done to support parents include home visiting by such organisations as Home-Start, and by trained volunteers; family centres and parent and toddler groups, such as those sponsored by the National Children's Homes, Barnardo's, the NSPCC and many local authorities; playgroups, in which the outstanding parent organisation is the Pre-School Playgroups Association, and telephone help-lines such as Parentline, Parentlink, Exploring Parenthood and others.

In addition to support, or perhaps prior to support, young people need preparation for parenthood. Education about relationships and life skills should be taught in primary and secondary schools. Relationship education helps children prepare for their future relationships and it can help to break the cycle of unhappy relationships in families which can otherwise be passed on from generation to generation. That cycle of deprivation was identified by the late Lord Joseph more than a decade ago. Relate has been working in the field of relationship education.

Family friendly employment practices can help. The Midland Bank is an enlightened employer in this respect. It has realised that it is easier to recruit and retain good employees if employment patterns are adjusted to reduce the stress which is caused when a good employee also wants to be a good parent. There are other ways to help parents on which I should like to spend time, but I think that time forbids that. I hope that some of those issues will be touched on by other speakers. They include such things as the structure of families in our society today; single teenage mothers; the role of unemployed fathers and of course the tax and benefit system.

Finally, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the enormous savings to the Exchequer and to the taxpayer, and the enormous savings in human terms through the avoidance of wasted lives, which could be achieved if we could reduce the number of children who are damaged in their early life by not receiving the "good enough" parenting that they need. In 1991–92 public expenditure for criminal justice was nearly £3,000 million. In the same year the value of goods stolen was £3,500 million pounds. The cost of keeping a child in a secure training centre will be between £100,000 and £150,000 a year. The cost of residential care is around £35,000 a year. The cost of fostering is between £13,000 and £15,000 a year. Contrast that with the cost of putting a Home-Start volunteer into a child's home. That is about £150 a year. The cost of a place in a pre-school playgroup is about £280 per year. It does not need a high success rate to make parent support a good investment:

Supporting vulnerable children by supporting their parents does not cost a lot of money. It has been proved to be successful. Compared to the cost of prison services or the cost of unemployment, it is an incredibly good investment, so why is it not happening? Could it be that the financial pressure on each of the three great spending departments—the Home Office, education and health—is so great that they are playing "pass the parcel"? Everyone is fumbling in his pocket and no one wants to pick up the bill. Surely a government who are prepared to spend so much on police and prisons should be prepared to invest just a little on crime prevention. Surely a government who are prepared to spend so much on education would be wise to spend a tiny proportion on reducing disruption in class and on the remedial teaching which is needed. Surely a government who are prepared to spend so much on physical health should be prepared to spend just a little on the emotional health of children.

If money is short, do not spend the money on research, do not spend it on experimental projects; spend it on extending existing good practice which has been proved to work. Spend it on supporting and extending projects which have been proved to be successful. Let us invest in success. Is there any other single investment which could produce such a gigantic dividend in financial and human terms? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for bringing this important matter before your Lordships' House. In 1988 the Government appointed a committee to inquire into discipline in schools. The committee was given very wide terms of reference. I chaired it. It reported in January 1989. The fifth chapter of the report dealt with the role of parents and the importance of "socially responsible parenting". I have little time to apologise for or expand on that educationally acceptable phrase in this timed debate.

Good parenting is, of course, both firm and loving. Those who are familiar with their Bibles have no difficulty with this combination. In my experience it is children who have been starved of love and affection who both have the greatest difficulty and cause the greatest difficulty. They it is who most predictably cause serious disruption in school and become the truants, delinquents and, later, the criminals who are the subject of this debate. Those starved of firm direction follow close behind. Those starved of both have the worst handicap and, as adults, pose—let us not forget—the greatest threat to society, as the noble Lord has pointed out. All have been denied what commentators call socially responsible parenting.

We recognised that school age parenthood was a rare but growing phenomenon; that it was a result, very often, of inadequate parenting in the deprived family of the child mother; and that it would inevitably be repeated in the next generation unless the cycle could be broken. It is a very rapid cycle. The children of school age pregnancies themselves become schoolchildren, and school problems, within a matter of five years. We saw that schools are in a uniquely important place in that cycle, but that they can only contribute to breaking it. They cannot break it on their own. They must be encouraged to make their contribution and others must also contribute.

Accordingly, one of our recommendations was that: the Secretaries of State should ensure that education for parenthood is fully covered as a cross-curricular theme in the National Curriculum". We made it with diffidence, given the difficulty of teaching the subject appropriately in school. But it was necessary in part because our next, and more important, recommendation would take time to implement. This was that: the Government should implement a post-school education strategy aimed at promoting socially responsible parenthood"— the subject of this debate.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government accepted that recommendation, as they accepted all but two of our many recommendations. Can my noble friend tell your Lordships' House, now that the children born to school-age mothers in that January have themselves been in school for up to a year, what steps they have taken to develop that strategy, what the strategy is, and how it is working? If not, what have they put in its place?

3.20 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, most of us will want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing the debate, and will sympathise with him for having a debate in which there is such a limited time to speak.

I should like to launch straight into what most of us would agree are the ideal standards in society and the framework within which to bring up children. We would like to see strong civic standards and strong institutions, which make for a happy and productive community. I believe that few noble Lords will disagree that many of those characteristics in our society have been subject to deterioration over a long time. I do not wish to lay blame for that at the feet of any particular government. It is one of the facts of life.

Within that sad state of affairs we have seen, particularly in deprived areas, children being born into a life in which there is little chance of love and affection, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, and with the ensuing lack of the trust and confidence in others which is so necessary in bringing up children.

Examples are very important for children at an early stage. Television must bear some responsibility. If children do not have a family environment in which good examples are set they will turn to bad examples, whether those are violent television programmes or a delinquent brother who may well be stealing motor vehicles, and so on.

Truanting inevitably leads to the possibility of crime. Most of us have been tempted by truancy at one time or another, but we have not all become criminals.

Noble Lords who have heard me speak on previous occasions will know that I am enormously keen on the provision of pre-school places. I believe that before the age of five, when children enter formal schooling, they need engagement with other children, preferably with their mothers. This morning I went to the very encouraging launch of a reshaped organisation called the Pre-School Learning Alliance—formerly the Pre-School Playgroups Association—which is attempting to do just that. Through its pre-schools throughout the country the association now has nearly 1 million children under its umbrella. Another 350,000 are on its waiting list. It needs money and funding, and I hope that the Government will take note of that fact. I know that they are already taking note, but I stress that it is a priority. If parents are failed by society then they in turn will fail their children, with all the disastrous results that we have seen.

3.23 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, by the iron rules of the House we are condemned to a symphony of sound bites, but in the few moments available I shall pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and those who have supported him so eloquently.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has brought before us a subject which has been neglected for far too long. I speak as one who, like other noble Lords, has been involved with youth work in one way or another over many years and has written and spoken about the subject. I published a book on young offenders in 1993.

Most of us who have talked and written about the subject have not said much about parents. Today I shall quote briefly in the time available some of the views of a remarkable woman called Shirl Marshall who has founded a society called Aftermath, which deals with the problems of parents of offenders. She has been in close touch with the parents of the two boys aged 10 and 11 who murdered a little baby aged two. Therefore she knows what she is talking about. She has been concerned not only with juveniles but also with adults. Today I refer to her views on juveniles and particularly the parents of those who have committed such grave crimes. I am a patron of Aftermath, but I am unpaid so I do not think that I need to declare an interest.

The first point I wish to raise is the terrible distress and agony of parents whose children have committed grave crimes. They ask themselves the everlasting question: "Where did I go wrong?". When it is brought home to them what has happened the parents undergo a terrible shock. They begin to recognise some of the damage in their own personalities, which they may have inherited. They are often themselves damaged personalities.

Those who counsel the parents have to ask how they can help those parents to help the young offenders. The short answer is that they have to understand and come to terms with their own damaged personalities to avoid that damage being passed on to their children.

That is not the whole of wisdom, but the information comes from someone who is in daily touch with the parents of children who have done these terrible things.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend—

Noble Lords


3.26 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, many of us are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne for bringing this subject, which is of such crucial importance, to the attention of the House.

There are many excellent organisations working in this field. I shall not list all 140 of them, being conscious of the text used by a former Member of this House—sadly recently deceased—when he became vicar of Great St. Mary's, Cambridge: If you must bore men, well and good; but must you bore your God also?". I shall therefore mention a few.

One nationally-known organisation is Homestart. Its research on 500 families showed that 82 per cent. of the parents had themselves suffered childhood trauma and, not surprisingly, 45 per cent. of them had poor parenting skills. That brings out a vital point. A theme which runs through the Old Testament is that the iniquity of the fathers will be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. Alas, that it is all too true. Childhood trauma leads to childhood trauma; poor parenting breeds poor parenting. But the good news is that that vicious succession can be broken by skilled help. Parents who experienced poor parenting can nevertheless be helped to overcome that legacy and develop parenting skills themselves.

Another body that does crucial work is the Family Nurturing Network in Oxford. It aims to prevent and reduce physical and emotional abuse by running programmes for groups of families where positive nurturing and parenting skills are learnt. Trained volunteers work with the children at the same time as skilled professionals work with their parents. Short-term evaluation clearly indicates the value of the programme. Children are able to concentrate at school, make friends and develop an increased sense of personal and social responsibility. Parents find ways of managing and avoiding difficult situations and having fun with their children.

There are also organisations such as the Parent and Family Education Unit at the City Literary Institute, which recognises that successful raising of children today depends upon partnership between parents and schools. There are, of course, many other organisations which other Members of the House may mention, such as Parentline, the Family Caring Trust and so on. The point about all this work is that it has very direct results in reducing juvenile crime, and does so in a cost effective way. It is particularly needed in this country.

A recent Euro barometer study found that UK respondents were less likely to see "bringing up and educating children" as the most important purpose of the family—less than one in four did so, compared with about six in 10 Portuguese, Greek, Italian, French and Spanish respondents. That work is cost effective; it is desperately needed and it works.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I must apologise to the House for being so keen not to waste time that I spoke out of turn and nearly cut out the speech of the right reverend Prelate. I am grateful, as are other noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing the topic.

There are things that can be done. Although the motives for schoolgirl pregnancies are dubious, they are not all bad. Many young, single mothers have been longing to have some object of affection, and to be the unquestioned object of affection of their baby. Therefore they are willing and anxious to help their babies. However, they are totally ignorant about what happens when a baby stops being a baby who can be lumped about, and starts being a person in his or her own right, talking and having a will of his or her own. At that stage the ignorance and lack of experience from their own childhood makes it quite impossible for very young, single mothers to give the child the emotional stability that he or she needs.

We have heard about numbers of small activities in local areas which seek to remedy that situation by educating young parents. I believe that that is the way forward. I have seen some incredibly good and fruitful work undertaken in one of the worst areas just outside Birmingham, where 80 per cent. of members of a block of flats were single mothers. The local GP's wife, all by herself, brought together a group of parents and children. She began to educate the parents, the children went on to nursery school, they increased their vocabulary and began to understand about communication.

I believe that such communication is at the heart of what I call abuse of children; namely, that no adult person talks to those children. They develop no notion of the fact that grown-ups can be on their side, can help them and can be people with whom they communicate. Many children arrive at school or pre-school activities with a vocabulary of about five words, most of those expletives. To start with such a background makes the task incredibly difficult for teachers. But for the children to have gained experience of communication and affection before that age is of enormous importance.

Another medium which is under-exploited is that of radio. I refer to programmes to which mothers and children can listen together from which education may be gained by stealth. They lead to common shared enjoyment and shared moral values. It is an area in which new charities are emerging. Applications have been made to the Department for Education for help. What is needed is not vast sums of money, but seed money, supportive money, for those small local groups.

That brings me to the melancholy part of what I have to say: that such support from Government entails collaboration between different government departments. It entails the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the social services actively working together. Having said that, your Lordships may well think, "The whole thing is hopeless". Over and again, efforts at collaboration have been defeated, generally by small, technical disagreements between different departments. I conclude by beseeching the Government and Ministers to find ways of saying that such collaboration can be achieved, but not by saying, "That must go to that department, and that is contrary to the other department's policy". Please let us have collaboration.

3.34 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, 50 per cent. of those found guilty of criminal offences are under 21. Therefore clearly we must spend a far higher proportion of our resources on crime prevention in particular among children where criminal tendencies often originate. All too often good home influences are lacking; there may be no home. Teachers are hard pressed. They have little time or perhaps aptitude to deal with the problems of individual children.

A charity called School's Outreach has shown what can be done by careful, dedicated work. School's Outreach sends highly trained counsellors into schools at the invitation of headteachers. The counsellors develop close personal relationships with disturbed children and have shown that in many cases problems can be resolved. The children are more prepared to confide in an external counsellor than in staff.

School's Outreach is a proven success but on a small scale, limited by financial resources. One headteacher reported on the major success of having a School's Outreach counsellor. In the year before the counsellor was appointed, there were 50 exclusions. In the two years following the appointment, the number fell to four. Similarly, in the two years before appointment, staff turnover was 90 per cent. In the two following years there were no staff changes. Parent/school relationships and attendance both showed marked improvement. There was major progress in dealing with bullying and resolving conflicts among the children.

That shows that School's Outreach does wonderful work. It is a valuable investment in our children's future in every sense of the word. However, the charity is limited in what it can do by financial resources. Some noble Lords who are interested in School's Outreach have sought on a number of occasions to obtain financial support from the Department for Education, and indeed from the Home Office which would find it a good investment in reducing costs of criminal activities later in life. The Department for Education and local authorities to whom we have been referred plead that there is no money available. I implore Her Majesty's Government to look again at the problem. The money invested in an organisation such as School's Outreach would have a quick payback in reducing crime and the huge costs associated with it and, of course, in enhancing our children's personal future.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, like charity, good parenting should begin at home, but too often it does not. When I first began to visit family centres run by the National Children's Home to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred—we are all indebted to him—I was astonished and appalled to find young mothers literally being taught how to play with their children instead of sticking the child, strapped in a high chair, in front of the telly. They were being taught also such advanced culinary arts as how to boil an egg and how to cook mince.

We all have an interest in helping inadequate parents avoid transmitting their own inadequacy at compound interest to succeeding generations. In declaring my own interest, I shall concentrate briefly on what NCH Action for Children is doing through the operation of more than 100 family centres. The form of provision ranges widely. At one end there are drop-in centres which provide play facilities, a toy library, and perhaps a crèche—a place where mothers can sit down for much needed company and a good gossip, and where they can receive advice on benefits and housing. At the other end there are highly structured projects undertaking intensive and highly skilled therapeutic work with deeply disturbed parents and children. To parents, such centres offer help and hope.

The objective is always to build on such strengths as families have and to improve parenting skills in child care, budgeting and healthy diet, and to provide counselling. Family centres help parents to identify their own needs and to find solutions to their problems. Running through all their work is the building of self reliance and independence and helping families to solve their difficulties together and to stay together.

The voluntary organisations, such as NCH Action for Children, can lead the way, but what they can do by way of provision is limited. Their needs are still growing at a time when the social services budgets from which local authorities, in partnership with such agencies as NCH, can meet those needs are being cut. As we have heard so often, manifestly, prevention is better than cure. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, emphasised, care about people, building and rebuilding family structures, and strengthening the very fabric of our society—all provide an unanswerable case for putting more public resources into family support.

3.40 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I wish to join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing the debate. I should like to endorse enthusiastically the remarks that he made during his introductory speech and to accept his invitation to speak on particular projects.

I chair a project set in Leeds known as Leeds Education 2000; it is part of a national initiative which has its emphasis on learning in the community. Leeds Education 2000 works with a pyramid of schools in the inner city part of Leeds where there is a high proportion of both ethnic minorities and single parents. Four nurseries in this area decided that they would like to set up a pilot project to help parents in supporting their children's learning and development in the first three years of life. So the Home Early Learning Partnership was launched, funded by private business, by the Leeds Tech and by the local city action team, in order to provide time for home visits. That, I think, is the key to this particular initiative. People actually visit the homes of parents. It also provides training for staff, play equipment for toy libraries, support by educational psychologists and, not least, the monitoring and evaluation which is necessary for such a project.

All the indications are that this initiative has been warmly welcomed. Many parents, particularly young parents, are beginning to realise that learning is something that takes place in all kinds of settings and that such activities as involving your children in sorting the laundry, playing with pots and pans, and trips to the shops are learning opportunities. Children can learn enormously if their parents take the time to be with them. One teacher said: "Children need a running commentary on everyday happenings". As children gain the confidence to learn, so parents also gain confidence. One of the spin-offs of such a project, as has already been mentioned, is that parents themselves discover their own skills and their own possibilities. Already in that part of Leeds parents are beginning to realise that they can work in schools; some of them go on to do NVQs. So far as the children are concerned, the benefits can already be seen in the nurseries: children settle into nursery more quickly and are more easily able to relate and to learn.

I looked carefully through the evaluation which was mounted by Leeds Metropolitan University. It outlined in good academic terms a number of positive contributions. It finished with what seemed to me a marvellous comment that there is a warm glow from having succeeded in developing something so worth while. I hope that the fact that the experience is shared in your Lordships' House this afternoon will be noted not only by the Government but by all those involved in education.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Acton

My Lords, at the Jesuit school which I attended as a boy we learnt the old Jesuit maxim: Give me a child for the first seven years, and you may do what you like with him afterwards". Modern research points to the same conclusion. The first few years play a huge part in deciding the direction of a child's life. In America in 1992, the non-profit organisation Zero-to-Three published a report, backed by voluminous research, entitled Heart Start. This report stresses that a child's performance at school depends on characteristics largely formed by the age of three, and that children neglected by their parents in their early years are the poorest performers at school. Drug use and delinquency all too often follow.

Heart Start recommends education for parents in infant development and the expansion of family support programmes to provide parents with the skills and help they need to bring up their children. The report emphasises some great successes. A programme in Syracuse, New York state, gave child care and family support over the first five years of low-income children's lives. Ten years later, the children —especially the girls—were doing far better at school than a similar group who had not been in the programme. As young adolescents, the boys had committed a quarter of the crimes of the non-programme boys and their offences were far less serious. Another American success story has been the High/Scope Perry pre-school project for disadvantaged children in Michigan. When the children reached the age of 27, researchers calculated that every dollar invested in High/Scope saved seven dollars 13 cents in the costs of criminal justice, welfare and so on.

Government help for such children in Britain must be a wonderful investment. What is needed is an increase in assistance for agencies working in this field. A potential source of funds is the £30 million a year for three years which the Government mean to spend on the new secure training centres for 12 to 14 year-old persistent offenders. Five secure training centres with 40 places in each are planned. The total of 200 places appears to have been arrived at completely arbitrarily. I suggest that the Government take a fresh and imaginative decision: they should reduce the number of secure training centres to four and the number of places to 160, thereby releasing £6 million a year; use even a part of that money to divert children at risk from becoming criminals; back programmes along the lines proposed by Heart Start; properly fund organisations like Relate, Home/Start and other agencies. If the Government have the will, so much can be done to reduce juvenile delinquency and crime. Let the Government invest wisely in the children of this country.

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, yesterday I attended a day conference run jointly by the Rural Development Commission, Kids Club Network, the National Council for Child Care Voluntary Organisations and the Association of County Councils. Figures were given that in 1984 there were 9.6 million women working; by 1993, that figure had risen to 11 million. Therefore, we must consider how the children of women working can be cared for at a rate which those women can afford to pay.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I attended the Pre-School Learning Alliance which used to be the Pre-School Playgroup Movement. It was announced this morning that there are 350,000 under-fives waiting for a place in playgroups.

Very good work is being done by Dr. Gillian Pugh of the early childhood unit of the National Children's Bureau, and, of course, by the Association of Directors of Social Services. Dr. Pugh heads a forum for the under-fives. I plead with her that the forum should consider the needs of parents, for the troubles, happiness, joys and sorrows of parents are reflected in the children. Research by the Rowntree Trust and at the Maudsley Hospital reveals that children very soon, even within a day, reflect the problems of the parents. Therefore, I suggest that while, of course, we must look after the children, we should concentrate on helping the parents. I believe that that would do much to diminish many of our problems.

I wish to make a plea for departments to work together. At the moment there is a different ethos and a different way of looking at childcare and of implementing childcare policies among different departments. The Department for Education has the figures—I have asked but have been unable to get them—for children excluded from school and children not attending school. A small boy said to me the other day, "Miss, if you want to do a job, get yourself excluded from school". "How do you do that?" I asked. I shall not tell noble Lords what he told me, but he got himself excluded from school for two years and is still not in school.

The Department of Health has a broad and caring outlook on children but one completely at variance with that of the Home Office. There is then the separate question of housing and the environment. In fact, seven departments are involved in meeting the needs of children and families. I suggest that there should be a committee of civil servants from those departments. They agree that there is a committee; but they do not listen to one another. I suggest that the committee should have a chairman who is objective and outside all the departments but who will see that the departments work together and have the same policies so that parents and those of us who work for children know where we are going.

3.51 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, getting married is looked upon as a very happy day. But unfortunately many, many marriages break down quite soon after they are made. We find parents in conflict with one another, and on some occasions in violent conflict. That violence automatically has an effect on the children in the family.

I work alongside the NSPCC in the Midlands and the Birmingham City Council education committee. They are currently working together on a combined teaching programme in schools to make children understand that that is not the whole of life. Learning about violence in the home automatically translates in school into crime and bullying. The NSPCC, which knows many of the families that are on the register, working alongside the teachers is creating a better-informed child; one who sees that life can be better than what he or she has previously suffered.

I should like to mention a special scheme with which I am involved—the St. Basil's scheme for the young homeless. For 16 to 20 year-olds, over the past 12 months, we have put forward the St. Basil's supported lodgings scheme. At the present moment we have over 50 landladies and husband-and-wife teams registered with the scheme, offering accommodation to young people after they have been carefully vetted to make sure that they will not cause problems in those families. They are then accepted into the families. So young people are being matched with landladies and landlords to ensure compatibility, and there is support from the very outset.

The scheme is cost-effective and is also beneficial in many cases to those who act as foster parents (if that is what we want to call them; they do not want that name). It also means that the private sector therefore works with a charity. In the long run it provides a supportive environment for many young people who are as old as 16 or 18 and have never known a family life. The scheme helps to mould their attitudes to self and society. We hope that it will be beneficial to them and to their children.

3.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, the only advice that was given to me when I became a bishop was, "If it moves, bless it". I am not sure that I had much more advice when I became a parent. Like most people of our generation, my wife and I just got on with it and were helped often by members of our family.

But things have changed across the generations since then. We know that there has been a breakdown in the structure of family life. There are so many people for whom there is no communication within the family between youngsters and parents. There are the influences that have invaded the home and almost removed normal conversation from many homes, which is a tragedy. There are few good role models. Things have changed radically; and many parents today cannot keep pace with the way in which their youngsters think, since the thinking of a generation alters so fast. That is the background.

It is remarkable—and it has been said more than once today—that in our country there are 140 organisations that address the question of parenting, when a large number of people in this country do not even know that it is a problem. It is a tremendous tribute to our nation that so much voluntary work has gone into seeing this as a problem and aiming to meet it. I am thrilled about that. We have heard mentioned organisations such as the Family Care Trust; Relate; Flame; the Mothers' Union; and Care. Imaginative things are going on. Care, for instance, has a huge number of adventure holidays whereby one parent and one offspring go on holiday together—mother and son, father and daughter, or whatever it happens to be—to learn to relate to each other during a specially constructed holiday. The organisation has taken 30,000 people through their marriage strengthening seminars, and so on. All that is very imaginative.

I have spoken to the people in my own diocese who work particularly on this theme. I asked: what are the three things that you would want to say? These are the three points made. First, this work is labour-intensive. The courses being run in our diocese require two carers to 10 parents across eight weeks. That is a lot of people involved in caring. The good news is that almost anybody can do it. It is not necessary to be a professional. You can master the material and teach it, and that is good. Therefore, a higher profile for parenting from the Government, and publicly throughout the nation, will help draw more people into the action that is needed. The second point is that it is not just a matter of that part of society where there is crime. Every section of society needs help over parenting. The third point has come up time and again this afternoon—it was right at the centre of the welcome Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—namely, co-ordination. We have the resources and a lot of the people, but we simply cannot get the schools, the Department of Health, the voluntary societies and the Church to work together. That is the real problem. No quick fix is possible. It may take 10 to 15 years to get to the roots of society in order to change things. But it is happening, and it needs a real boost from the centre. I hope that we can give it that boost this afternoon.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, we live in a society of opportunity for all; but inevitably that means an ever-widening gap between those who have thrived and those who have failed. The relative deprivation of the weak has encouraged them to try to reach equality through crime—hence the worldwide crimewave.

Most delinquents come from families that have a history of violence, unemployment and crime. Such families produce problem children who grow into problem adults, and they in their turn produce problem children. There is also a direct link between marital conflict and delinquency. Parental conflict, in turn, can be the result of stress through poverty. Lancaster University found that half the families of delinquents had a weekly family income of less than £60. But also, early marriage, live-in girlfriends and single parentage must make their contribution. The young drift off without education or skill, without ethics or self-respect and with no fixed abode. They are unable to get work and have no money. They drift into theft, rackets and anything else in order to survive, and soon land in prison. Desperation may not excuse, but it encourages crime.

The penalties which must be, and are correctly, imposed by the courts can make the position worse for such families and their children. Probation is rated as a severe sentence and can, of course, have a beneficial influence. Fines can make matters worse. For example, destitute single mothers are often fined for not having television licences. Without TV, the children become even less controllable. Where fines are imposed on destitute mothers, probation should offer them piecework such as they can do in their own home, so that—only if they wish to do so—they can earn credits with which to satisfy their debt to the court without further strapping their meagre income.

Schools may be the only good influence for the child from a bad home and may be the only opportunity for such a child to learn the problems in store with early marriage or single parenthood. Without home training, there is no other resource but the teacher. Teachers must be adequately trained in this field. Parenting is, after all, a skill. It can be learned in the classroom. Often teachers find themselves confidants to distraught parents who have marriage problems. Teachers are not trained to deal with that kind of thing and do not have the confidence to try to help. It would be a great advantage for parental problems to be brought into teacher training, to help teachers make tomorrow's adults into better parents.

Sex education is now in place, but the broader "relationship" education is less clearly defined. Such education is not a feature of initial teacher training and tends to be squeezed out by the pressure of other subjects. Despite its great importance for the future of the nation, relationship training rarely attracts mainstream funding. If the state of parenthood for the coming generation is to be tackled, teachers must be trained in relationships and be able to make that vital contribution when parents themselves are failures. Even then, it will take a generation to improve things.

4.1 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Northbourne is to be congratulated on bringing forward this subject for debate today, when we hear and read so much about the problems that some families suffer.

The International Year of the Family saw a renewed interest and concern about the need to support parents. What is needed is more instruction and guidance to young people embarking on what is a complete change in their lives. It is no longer just two people to please themselves but at least one other human being, whose needs are almost constant when he (or she) is small.

It is very necessary for young boys as well as young girls to be taught about parenthood. The International Year of the Family also found that men in this country apparently work longer hours than any of their European counterparts. Until we see the growth of family friendly policies in the workplace, it is difficult to see how men in this country will be able to rebalance their work and new home commitments. I am told that many new young parents arrive home, sit down and say, "Oh dear, what do we do now?"

The Children Act 1989 was intended to be interpreted more broadly, but limited resources have instead led to a focus on crisis work. It would seem to make more economic sense if it were possible to identify children and families who could benefit from support before they reach crisis point. The National Children's Bureau finds that there is a lot of evidence that broad mainstream services can provide parents and young children with the kind of start they need and prevent them from reaching a crisis point later. Every local authority is required to review services for children under eight every three years. This year we are coming up to the second review. It would seem to be a good opportunity for local authorities to look at services provided for parents and young children together. There are many different providers and many different voluntary bodies involved. It would seem to be a chance to link all those services together to provide a more coherent approach to the subject.

Is the Minister aware of the NSPCC's work at its Stradbroke Family Centre in Sheffield, which offers not only individual sessions with mothers and fathers but group work for parents as well? Likewise, in Barnsley, the children protection team offers therapeutic work with children and families where neglect and abuse are a concern. Those two projects in Yorkshire are typical of many NSPCC centres throughout the country which are trying to help parents and children.

During her antenatal clinic, the mother will too busy with exercises to take in much about the time after the birth. But at the postnatal clinic, perhaps her GP could make sure that she is seeing her health visitor when she calls and asks her any questions that she may have. One way in which young mothers might be helped in the postnatal period is by friends going to visit her, perhaps just to talk. That would be especially helpful if the young mother is suffering from depression following the birth of her child.

When young people are growing older, they think about examinations or finding work. Should not they also be taught to think about parenthood in the future—as I have just said, boys as well as girls? Could the Minister suggest some way in which it could be brought to the attention of society in general that we all have a responsibility to help make our country a happy place in which to live? We should therefore prepare young children, as they get older, for the possibilities of future parenthood and show them how to prepare for it.

4.5 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing today's debate. Effectiveness in dealing with juvenile delinquency is entirely dependent upon identifying accurately the factors that predispose children towards criminality. The one incontestable fact to have emerged from research is the direct causal link between inadequate or downright bad parenting and a predisposition to delinquency in children. As Professor Kolvin puts it: Good parenting protects against the acquisition of a criminal record". As a society, we therefore have a responsibility to foster and instil good parenting skills in all parents. That is a view endorsed by the Government. The Home Office reply to Recommendation 11 of the sixth report from the Home Affairs Committee in the 1992–93 Session states: The Government has always regarded the family as having a crucial influence on young people's moral standards. Teaching children the difference between right and wrong is a process which must begin in the home and continue throughout childhood. Schools and churches also have an important part to play in this process …But this must be in addition to parental responsibility, not a substitute for it". It is a not a major conceptual leap to recognise that the principle of training parents—not just some but all parents, both prospective and actual—in the necessary skills to acquit their responsibilities is a sound one. Parenting skills are not inbred; they have to be learned. As Mia Pringle put it: Modern parenthood is too demanding and complex a task to be performed well merely because we have all once been children". My noble friend, when she winds up, may argue that financial prudence militates against any expenditure on universal provision of parenting classes. The reality is that potential mechanisms to provide such a service at a relatively small cost are already in place. The national curriculum at secondary level and antenatal and postnatal courses are possible vehicles for disseminating training in parenting skills.

More pertinently, the Government's commitment to universal provision of pre-school education for all four to five year-olds is curiously opportune in this context. Many forms of pre-school provision, particularly play groups, are already actively engaged in the process of educating parents in the skills necessary for good parenting. Indeed, the PPA perceives that particular aspect of its work, with the associated benefits that it brings of enhancing the self-esteem of parents and bringing them more into the mainstream of society, to be of equal importance to its primary aim of providing play group activity.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that the High/Scope research in the United States concluded that nursery educated children were, when older, five times less likely to commit criminal offences. Clearly, parentally-involved pre-school provision could—and should be permitted to—confer a double benefit: that of enabling both children and parents, as well as breaking the "cycle of deprivation".

In conclusion, I offer your Lordships the following observation from Dr. Gillian Pugh: Parenthood today is a demanding and at times stressful, lonely and frustrating experience; and if society continues to put high expectations on parents, then it must also provide sufficient support to enable them to fulfil their obligations with knowledge, understanding and enjoyment".

4.8 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I served for about 27 years as a member of a board of visitors at a young offenders' institution. I have seen hundreds and thousands of young people who have turned to crime. When I ask them how they did at school, many would say that they had truanted—truanted from big comprehensive schools. Sometimes they will turn up in the morning, check in, go away, come back, have a free lunch and go away again. Big comprehensive schools with no form teacher are very easy places from which to truant. I often felt that the teachers were quite pleased not to see the disruptive children there.

I remember one particular young man who told me that, when he came back from the pub, he used to pick up his baby and shake it. That is very dangerous indeed. At one time in that young offenders' institution at an evening class child care was taught by a prison officer's wife who was a health visitor. All young offenders' institutions should have such classes. That class was exceedingly popular. It was always full of 30 keen young people who were eager to learn. It was really useful. Most of those young people were prospective parents, if not already parents.

Two education Bills ago, I moved an amendment to have life skills as part of the curriculum. The Government would not accept it. I am still as sure now as I was then that it should be part of education for all children. One young man who had never been in trouble but whose parents divorced when he was seven, said to me, "You know, the most important thing is never taught; that is, how to be a good parent".

So many children are hurt and disillusioned by parents breaking up. They have no useful model to pass on to their own children. It is a cycle of deprivation which could be remedied and helped by education on good parenting and healthy life skills. I should like to pay tribute to the family service units which do so much to teach families to cope when they find that they have problems. But they are a small drop in the ocean. I found that a high percentage of young people who turned to crime had been in care. Can the Minister say whether any research is being done on the reasons for that? Children need stability and a firm foundation upon which to build their lives. I hope that the Minister will do all she can to help the Government realise how important this subject is.

4.11 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his able introduction of this Motion; it is something about which the Government are extremely concerned. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health asked the Churches for an overview on the family, including parenting, and the report will be published in three or four months. I can tell your Lordships that it will indicate a great lack of funds for the necessary projects.

On Monday last the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice asked why there was less crime among the youth in the 1930s—a time of high unemployment—than there is today. He suggested that the answer was the strength and discipline of the family which prevailed in the 1930s and which was much stronger then than now. That is a measure of the problem we are discussing.

As my noble friend said, the costs of the breakdown or failure of parenting are enormous. I shall not continue with that point, but it is vital to realise that a small amount of money spent on the education of young people in parenting could save the Exchequer a great deal of money later.

I believe that there is a measure of co-operation between the voluntary, statutory and government agencies. I should like to echo what other noble Lords have said about a much greater co-ordination being needed among the government departments and other agencies and organisations. There is a need to improve relationship skills right across the board. That is a matter close to the heart of the recently formed Relationships Foundation in Cambridge.

I want to turn to one specific proposal that I put forward to my noble friend the Minister. As has been said, there is now education for parents of antenatal and postnatal care of babies. I should now like to see that education extended. For instance, when a child is brought for immunisation, the parents should be educated in the parenting of small children. When their first child joins a primary school, there should be education in the parenting of older children, and when the first child goes to secondary school, there should be a brief course for educating parents on teenagers. A small sum of money spent on good education for parenting would save the Exchequer millions of pounds.

4.14 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this Motion in the terms that he has. While not disagreeing with anything that has been said so far, I am concerned, in the short time available, to attempt to widen the focus a little and challenge the automatic assumption that a psycho-social problem must have psycho-social causes. In most cases it does. But in the realm of juvenile crime there is now plentiful evidence to show that there are sometimes other forces at work as well, and that parents and educators would do well to take note of them.

I am talking here about the links between diet and behaviour which have been demonstrated in a substantial number of studies over the past 20 years, most notably in prison populations in the States where, for example, reductions of up to 45 per cent. in antisocial behaviour have been recorded after a switch to a wholefood diet. Indeed, this led in Los Angeles to a ban on highly processed foods in all juvenile institutions in the city.

If there were time I could have amplified the evidence by reference to cases like the one known to me locally, where a young lad has only to come into contact with sugar, wheat or milk to go totally berserk, beating up his mother, starting fires and going out and stealing cars. But the best I can do is refer any who are interested in further evidence to previous speeches I have made on the subject (17th March 1993 at col. 1524, and 15th March 1989 at col. 277). They are not all as dramatic as this case of extreme food sensitivity, but they mostly involve a crucial lack of the nutrients needed for proper brain function, mostly from a junk food diet, often at the age of peak growth which is also, incidentally, the age of peak offending.

The fact that this is not more widely known is, I believe, due to the separation of cultures whereby criminologists and nutritionists do not generally read each other's literature, and tend to resist pleas to look at the problem on a multidisciplinary basis—a counterpart to the lack of collaboration between government departments that has already been mentioned. It is also, I am afraid, due to the lamentable gaps in medical education in the field of nutrition.

But a bright spot was the announcement of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in reply to what I said two years ago, that the Home Office was proposing to fund a study to he conducted by Dr. Jonathan Brostoff of the Middlesex Hospital to look further into the links between diet and delinquency. I can report that that study is now nearing completion.

Meanwhile parents can only be made aware of the possibility of such links (in fact, many of them are actually a good deal more aware than the so-called professionals), tap in where necessary to the considerable expertise of bodies like the Hyper-Active Children's Support Group, and pay careful attention to what goes into their children's mouths as well as their minds.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, if any of the ideas and principles for the young are to be fulfilled and come to fruition, then a base is needed. The base and foundation I suggest are the words—those who go to Church or study the scriptures may recognise them: Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath". By "slow to wrath", we mean not to be quick, unreasonable, narrow or prejudiced in opinion.

In those words, particularly, swift to hear, slow to speak", we have a bridge-building way for appreciation and understanding between all ages and between peers—those of the same age. That is necessary if we are to help one another. It is particularly necessary if parents, whether the traditional mother and father or a single parent, are to help their children.

If children have experience of their parents or a single parent right from the beginning, from when they are born, being "swift to hear" them, and "slow to speak", it is more likely that the children will grow up ready to hear their parents speak and listen to them. Also, if we are, swift to hear, slow to speak", it is more likely that we will appreciate the feelings and hopes of the young as the young themselves will appreciate the feelings of their peers.

It is important that from the home base and foundation that lesson is learnt, so that when children go forth from the home to kindergarten, nursery school and school they have a foundation upon which to build their character and personality and also—this cannot be emphasised too much —to appreciate their elders, their elders having in turn given them the sense of appreciating them. I believe first and foremost that that should happen in the home and from there people will take it outside.

4.19 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I feel somewhat embarrassed that on the Speakers' List I, as a winder-up, am given 10 minutes when other speakers, with a great deal more of importance to say, have been allowed only three minutes. I would say to the Government: please do not inflict three-minute times on us. There has been so much to be said today that it is quite unreasonable that people should have only three minutes in which to speak. Inevitably, it has turned into an advertising campaign, which is absolutely fine, but the subject deserves a great deal more time and attention than very well-informed speakers have been able to give it.

It is particularly embarrassing that I get 10 minutes for I know less about this subject than anyone else who has spoken. As a superannuated, childless, spinster, I really would not claim to have anything to say of any importance on the subject of parenthood, which is perhaps why I do not intend to concentrate on the subject of parenthood. What I am going to say is that, very important though all the points which have been made about parenting are, we are asking an almost impossible task of parents—here I think I can speak with some knowledge—unless we attack the basic problems that lie behind crime in this country.

A parent can do a very good parenting job earlier on—I agree that that makes it less likely that children will get into trouble with the law later on—but we have to face the fact that there are parts of the country today, not only in the cities but certainly in many of the inner cities, where crime is accepted as a normal way of life. People are no longer concerned about it in the way that they would have been in the past. In a family I know very well one of the sons, who was serving his third, or perhaps it was his fourth, prison sentence for burglary, said to his mother, "I know most of the chaps in here". He was joining a group with which he was very familiar, both outside the gaol and inside the gaol. We must get it clear that we are breeding groups of people up and down the country to whom crime is acceptable. If one were thinking only about the careers of these young people, given the state of the labour market and given the lack of education and skills which so many of them have—I once said this when talking at a gathering organised by the Metropolitan Police—one would have to advise them to stick to burglary because the chances of a decent life outside are so very small.

Unlike everyone else who has spoken this afternoon I want to concentrate on some of these other issues. Here I must declare an interest—a totally unpaid interest but we all declare interests these days—in my connections with the APEX Trust. The position with regard to ex-offenders getting jobs is getting more and not less difficult. The probation service has made it clear over and over again—indeed, it is only a matter of common sense—that someone who has offended and then gets a job is three times less likely to reoffend. I do not know whether the statistical base for the figure is absolutely sound but it is approximately right. Surely people do not need a great deal of convincing that that is likely to be so.

If we want to get rid of these growing centres where crime is accepted, if we want to give a chance to families to keep their young people out of trouble, we must do much more than we are doing at present to help people who get into trouble to get out of it, to get into and stay in a job and therefore have a chance by having an income, by having something to do in order to give them some status, by having an opportunity to have their own home, and thereby not slip back into crime again, which is almost inevitable unless they can get a job.

The situation is becoming more and not less difficult. I wish to quote from a circular from the Association of Chief Officers of Probation. It states: Unemployment is common amongst offenders in contact with Probation Services: ACOP' s surveys consistently show a level of 70 per cent. or more unemployment amongst offenders commencing supervision. There is also evidence that the periods of unemployment are becoming longer, and that the skills, qualifications and experience of offenders under supervision are gradually becoming less and less appropriate to the requirements of employers, training providers and providers of employment services. The employment prospects of offenders and ex-offenders are worsening". The report goes on to say that 90 per cent. of those coming out of prison have no jobs to go to. That is the central problem we need to tackle.

Other speakers have pointed out how important it is to get different government departments working together on these problems. The problem of getting jobs for ex-offenders and thereby cutting down the offending rate is a matter for consideration by and is the responsibility of the Department for Education, the Department of Employment and the Home Office. In addition, as even the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, who is to reply to the debate cannot be expected to answer for all those departments, I would mention the Department of Health. From the point of getting jobs, it is the three departments that I have mentioned which must take the lead.

They need to get together to work on this problem and there are specific things which they need to do. The literacy level of offenders is very low. That means that their chances of learning and then training and getting jobs are proportionately low. The Department for Education needs to take seriously the problem of exclusions. Those who are excluded are precisely the people who are likely to turn to crime. They do not have much else to turn to. One understands why the number of exclusions is increasing, but the problem must be looked at from the point of view of what is happening to the people who are excluded. They are certainly going to build up this—I hate the word but I think we all understand it—underclass, this criminal culture, against which we are all trying to fight.

The Department of Employment also has a part to play. Those who are involved with the training and placing of offenders have relied very much on grants, first, from the Manpower Services Commission and then when that disappeared, from the TECs. The TECs are in an increasingly difficult position. We had news only this week that one important TEC in London has gone bankrupt. That does not help those of us who are working in London on these problems. A number of voluntary organisations have been seriously handicapped by what is happening. I hope that a way will be found to rescue the TECs.

The policy in relation to the TECs operates against the benefit of people who are trying to work with ex-offenders. The TECs, handicapped by a lack of money as they are, get their money on the basis of successful results. Successful results mean getting people into jobs or people getting qualifications. If a TEC's money depends on people getting jobs and getting qualifications it will want ex-offenders like a hole in the head. We need to have, but we do not have, premium payments for helping to get offenders the opportunity of training and the opportunity of getting work. Under the much-criticised YTS we used to get premium payments but that has all gone. I beg the Government to look at this again. It is another of these short-term, ridiculous economies. Why save a little money at that point when one will be paying the huge sums, to which other noble Lords have referred, in the whole field of crime? That brings me to the Home Office.

In the minute which is left to me I ask that the Home Office really takes proper training in prison seriously and relates that training to the kind of job the offender has a hope of getting. That would be of very great assistance. Above all, cannot those three departments and the leading voluntary organisations outside who are working in this field and who know about it, get together to promote a scheme with the quite precise purpose of seeing that offenders get jobs?

4.30 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, is it not nice; is it not very nice, to hear a debate which has been critical, but collaborative and creative as well. The whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and it falls to me to do little more than to present the Labour Party's policy on co-ordinated education and support for young parents, and to point to a few outstanding examples of good practice as we see them, and to applaud them, and to urge the Government (for they alone hold the strings of the public purse) to support them in every way.

One of the five key principles guiding the Labour Party's education policy is partnership. We believe that, a civilised society cannot operate when its education system is undermined by confrontation. Policies should be determined after consultation and decision making should be shared. Central government should create the framework for education whilst the local delivery of services must be the responsibility of those who are democratically and professionally accountable. Professionals must be recognised as such. Parents must be actively involved in their children's educational lives". My Lords, the first priority of a Labour Secretary of State for Education will be a dramatic extension of nursery education. Labour's key objective is to ensure that all three and four year-olds whose parents want it have access to high quality nursery education. I quote again: Labour will give particular encouragement to promoting parental involvement in early years education". That comes from Opening Doors to a Learning Society: a Policy Statement on Education.

So recently as yesterday, my honourable friend Mr. David Blunkett announced the formation of an inquiry team into the integration of early years provision. In their Statement of Intent that inquiry team said this: We also wish to develop our services for young children and their families, building on the best of the diverse range of existing provision and on existing innovative models of good practice. We aim to develop the supportive help needed in good parenting, to ensure that parents, where feasible, can participate in the development of their children's education and in the wider goals of increasing literacy, numeracy and educational achievement". The diverse range of existing provision is indeed considerable, and your Lordships have given many illustrations of excellent practice currently available.

I wonder, for example, how many of your Lordships would have felt confident before today that they could successfully answer some difficult examination questions on the history and achievements of a charity called Parent Network; one of the 140-odd to which the right reverend Prelate referred. Parent Network (just one of many) was set up in 1986 to help parents improve their relationship with their children, thus breaking the cycle of inadequate parenting often passed on from one generation to another. They set up an innovative parent support and education programme called Parent-Link, run by specially trained parents in local areas, offering parents the chance to improve their communication skills, and their abilities to negotiate and to set acceptable boundaries in family life. So far, over 9,000 parents have attended Parent-Link, and over 1,500 continue to meet in support groups. About 200 parent co-ordinators are running groups across the country, from Aberdeen to Cornwall.

Another charity, now called Relate, but perhaps more familiar to some of your Lordships as the old Marriage Guidance Council under another name, is also doing vital work in this field. Relate points out that there is a wealth of evidence which links the quality of the relationships between the parents with the ability to be a "good" parent to the child. It is where conflict exists between the parents that children experience confusion and stress. Relate suggests that there are a number of major obstacles to developing a successful relationship education programme in schools, one of which is, The demands of the National Curriculum often lead to a 'squeeze out' of elements such as relationship education"— it is not sexy and it has not got a high image— or to attempts being made to cover this subject in an inadequate setting with [far] too little time". Relate makes four very practical, sensible and cheap recommendations:

  1. "1) that an extension of time be allocated in initial teacher training to include the subject of relationship education
  2. 2) that a programme of training for newly qualified teachers be established
  3. 3) that relationship education be offered as a component of in-service training
  4. 4) that a resource pack be developed to complement this teacher training".
I feel that these proposals are so clear, so simple and so obviously necessary, and that they emanate from such a responsible and experienced charity, that the Government should consider them with great seriousness and do all they can to implement them as soon as possible. They would cost remarkably little.

May I further commend to the Government's attention the work being done to bring children and parents together in schools by Registered Charity No. 803007—it is a pity about those last three figures! I refer to the City Literary Institute universally known as "the City Lit". Through the work of its parent and family education unit which has already been referred to, it has done an enormous amount to break down the barriers between the home and the school classroom, and we have to acknowledge the fact that these barriers do still exist in many places. There are still schoolteachers who believe that they are the experts, the trained and experienced professionals and that they and they alone should be in command and control of the education of the children committed to their charge: and there are still parents who are content to dump their offspring at the school gates, and then forget about their physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and social development until half-past three. The City Lit is advocating a better way through the principle of partnership in schools. It makes the central educational point that, The successful raising of children in our modern society depends upon an equal partnership between parents and school and that, In order to achieve this most cost effectively [we must] … appoint professional adult educators to facilitate partnership projects on the ground between schoolteachers and parents". Their report, one year on, upon their 1993 national conference is an absolute eye-opener. There were 150 participants, 63 parents and 87 professionals, and through exhibitions, drama, discussions and the like, they addressed vital questions like accrediting parents in the classroom—giving them a right by qualification to be there—parent-school partnerships, which is vitally important as an idea and as a practice, and the problem of the school gate. Just reading about the conference itself, it must have been absolutely marvellous fun. The "School Gate" was one of their topics, done as a dramatic presentation with music. One of the parents, in the course of this presentation, actually sings. I shall not inflict on your Lordships the tune, but the words went like this: I'm standing here and thinking Outside the old school gate. I'm standing here and thinking While I watch and wait. I'm standing here and thinking, 'What's happening in there?' How can I get to find out? How can I get to share? My only reservation about that otherwise splendid conference is that, if the pictures in the report are an accurate representation, there were hardly any men among the participants. There are many of us who believe that parenting, wherever possible, should be a partnership of a father and a mother. It takes two to tango.

But this is the way forward; this is the positive picture of partnership; this is what we owe to our children. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, let us build on success like that lovely occasion which happened this morning at BAFTA when the Playgroup Association became the Preschool Learning Alliance. For those of us who were there I can only say that your Lordships would envy us when we saw 26 tiny tots under five standing on a stage and singing, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". I think that had your Lordships been there you would agree with me, albeit ungrammatically, that, "Where there's kids, there's hope".

4.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, I very much welcome this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Judging by its popularity, he has touched a chord among your Lordships, and I am not surprised, because I think the debate is tailor-made—if I may say so—for your Lordships' House, and I think that has been evident today. I share the disappointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that noble Lords had only three minutes to speak, but that was not a government decision, it was a Cross-Bench decision. There could not be a more fitting person than the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to initiate the debate, with his knowledge and insight, his work in the International Year of the Family, his vice-chairmanship of the all party group on parenting, and his setting up of the parenting forum.

The noble Lord stressed the importance of supporting inexperienced parents, and the Government heartily agree that we should. The problem with being a parent is that experience is only gained when you see the results 20 or 30 years later when it is too late, at least for women, to have another attempt at the job. I think that it was Ogden Nash who wrote: Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore, and that's what parents were created for". The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested that what children need is not a parent but "good enough" parenting. I am encouraged by that, because I could not define a perfect parent or indeed a perfect child, and the enormous social changes that have taken place make being a parent, let alone a perfect parent, even more difficult, especially as many live away from their families and feel isolated. I agree with the noble Lord, and the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, that it is the first few years of life that are the most important. A year ago the Government introduced their new policy entitled Changing Childbirth. At the very beginning of new life, it encourages parents to make choices as to how and where their baby will be born. It gives them greater control over the care they receive, and urges professionals not to take over the event, but to enable, support and encourage parents rather than assume all responsibility.

It is said that every mother remembers her midwife, but many also remember their health visitor. The Government are unstinting in their support for young parents, and through the NHS employs nearly 12,000 health visitors who give a valuable and valued service to young families. No other country has specially trained nurses committed to health promotion and family support. They are the largest professional group working with parents of young children, and can achieve remarkable results, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I think, knows, for his daughter is one.

My noble friend Lord Brentford mentioned the need to educate parents very early on, and the child development project, devised by Dr. Walter Barker in Bristol, is doing just that. Using a cartoon format, health visitors give advice on parenting to the least advantaged young families, some of whom have a history of deprivation and abuse stretching back through generations. There is no doubt that abused children are more likely to inflict abuse on their children. Breaking that cycle is some of the most challenging work undertaken by health visitors. But of course they visit not just young parents in deprived areas, but parents generally.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, stressed the importance of pre-school or nursery education, and I was delighted to hear the noble Viscount's views about the event you attended this morning. I am just jealous that I was not there. Your Lordships will be aware that the Prime Minister has announced the Government's commitment to provide nursery education for all four year-olds. That is not just a government edict, but part of a determined effort to enable parents, by their own involvement, to give their children the best education.

The Government share the views of many of your Lordships today that good education is not prescribed by governments or teachers. It is a partnership which involves parents, teachers, local authorities, the Government, and, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote reminded us, voluntary outreach schemes, employers and, above all, the children. It fosters that through PTAs, parent governors, strengthening parent choice, publishing league tables, encouraging grant-maintained schools, and giving information, choice and responsibility, as codified in the Parent's Charter. I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester that all that change cannot be brought about in 10 or 15 years. It will take 25 years or more as people see the benefits.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northesk for his considered contribution to the debate. As he emphasised, there is now greater flexibility for schools beyond the core curriculum. While parenting classes are not themselves part of the national curriculum, as my noble friend Lord Elton, I think, would wish, secondary schools must provide sex education which encourages values, and an appreciation of the responsibilities of family life and what it means to become a parent.

My noble friend Baroness Faithfull is right that the exclusion of a pupil is a very serious step for any school to take. It should always be a last resort. Guidance issued by the Department for Education in May 1994 made that very clear. Information on levels of permanent exclusion from schools is being collected through a study of provision for pupils out of school, commissioned by the Department for Education. The study is being carried out by the research centre of Christchurch College, Canterbury.

As sponsor Minister for Plymouth, I have recently visited Highfield School in one of the least well-off parts of the city where the dockyards are closed, unemployment is high and truancy is rampant. In three years, the head teacher, Mrs. Farrington, has transformed the school. When she first arrived there were more children standing in the corridor than sitting in the classroom. That has gone, and she and her team have reduced the absence rate by 20 per cent. in three years. It can be done, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote, said. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will be encouraged that the Government are currently supporting £14 million of expenditure for local schemes to reduce truancy. Those include Truancy Watch where community involvement is a vital part of the scheme. In Stoke-on-Trent juvenile arrests in school hours were halved over the first four months of the scheme being introduced.

As my noble friend Lord Elton is so well aware, with all the work that he has undertaken on school discipline—I should like to pay a tribute to him for that report—tackling truancy is important as it can lead to criminal behaviour. My noble friend Lord Gisborough gave us a very thoughtful speech concerning juvenile crime. The Government's policy is rightly to divert young people away from crime and, as far as possible, to deal with those who do offend by cautioning and community sentencing. For the majority of youngsters, those measures have been successful. But what about, for example, the 13 and 14 year-old boys who commit numerous burglaries and car thefts and for whom the full range of community penalties has failed? It is for that small group of persistent young offenders that the Government have introduced the new secure training order.

Perhaps I may assure the noble Lord, Lord Acton, that the Government have carried out research to estimate the number of places which would be required for persistent juvenile offenders targeted by the secure training order. Those juvenile offenders will be those for whom community supervision has failed, but the order is not a substitute for other approaches. It will merely fill a gap in court powers.

The Government also initiate research. Through the Health of the Nation they set targets to reduce unwanted pregnancies. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that diet is also part of that strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, may be interested to know that funding is also available through the Department for Education's GEST programme to support the in-service training of teachers in relationship education. We are supporting a Relate project to develop a training programme for teachers in relationship education.

A constant theme of the International Year of the Family was the need for better education, information and advice on parenting issues. My noble friend Lord Elton will be pleased to hear that the parenting initiative announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health is designed to examine and evaluate the support available to a wide range of families and parents who feel that they need help with bringing up their children. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we are investing in success; £300,000 has been made immediately available to support the best ideas arising from the international year. In the longer-term, a research theme is being developed with grants of £2.5 million over five years.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford referred to voluntary organisations, as did many of your Lordships. The Government support the work of voluntary organisations such as Home-Start, which receives almost £400,000 per year through the family support initiative and other grants. Family organisations receive some £5 million directly from the Government but voluntary organisations need to convince local authorities of their effectiveness in order to secure further funding.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon highlighted some imaginative voluntary schemes. Indeed, we are funding small church groups and in the field of marriage guidance we have funded National Family Mediation, Relate and One Plus One. There are also projects for ethnic minority families under particular stress and we are investing in those.

The Family Forum, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will draw together all those involved in the provision of support and education for parents in order to ensure that they collaborate as effectively as possible to provide the best possible service to parents.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Baronesses, Lady Seear and Lady Warnock, mentioned the co-ordination of government and said that it could be better done. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has been appointed Minister for the Family. No one could be more energetic or committed in her role. Recently, the Secretary of State announced that the Government are strengthening the co-ordination of policy by holding discussions on family issues at Cabinet level on a regular basis. She is also working closely with voluntary organisations and including them in her debates. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that life for parents is more difficult. That was mentioned by many noble Lords today. We used to talk about "child rearing" but now we call it "parenting", and it is much harder. Children are better educated, more aware, more street-wise, less compliant and less respectful. While teaching them right from wrong, we have to make the case and not just lay down our law. That is challenging. The Government would delude themselves if they believed that they had an overriding impact on society. Society evolves, changed by events and attitudes.

The vast majority of young people grow out of behaving badly and become honest, law-abiding, caring people. Governments, like parents, simply have to cope and it is futile to try to legislate for Utopia. We would never begin to agree on what is a good society. And if we ever did, society would have changed and our deliberations would have been fruitless.

But what young people give today is openness. They are less secretive and that makes everything much easier for children, parents, helpers, local authorities and governments. If we can listen to young people they will listen to us. Trust them and they will show responsibility; love them and they will love their neighbours. If we could live up to their ideals, we would be a better society and a finer country in a cared-for world.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for saying so many interesting things in such a short time and for being such good timekeepers. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, is equally grateful.

I regret that the Minister was not brave enough to tackle the issue which was raised by so many speakers; that of better co-ordination between the departments of state in whose hands the fate of children lie. That is a subject to which we must continually return until we find a solution, recognising that it is a difficult problem but one that must be solved in the interests of children.

It was encouraging to count 16 specific success stories referred to by your Lordships. They prove the point I made at the beginning; that there are success stories out there and that they ought to be backed. It is a good business principle to follow your successes. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.