HL Deb 15 June 2000 vol 613 cc1754-6

3.10 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will appoint a Minister for men to address the gender-related problems of disadvantaged men.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so. The Government believe in removing barriers to achievement wherever they exist. We are aware of the particular problems faced by disadvantaged men and are taking action to address them. For example, the New Deal has already helped over 300,000 young men who were in long-term unemployment. We have introduced the minimum wage and are helping families through the working families' tax credit. We are also carrying out a review of paternity and maternity leave to improve the work/ life balance for fathers and families.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that encouraging reply. I have always been confident that the Government's heart is in the right place, but there must be action. Is the noble and learned Lord aware that in the past 50 years the number of jobs in manufacturing industry has fallen from 5.7 million to 2.9 million, which radically affects the employment opportunities for men, and that today 1.5 million children live in families where no one is employed? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that the state education system has failed to motivate boys to a much greater extent than girls? Is he also aware that last year nearly five times as many boys than girls were found guilty or cautioned in respect of indictable offences, and that nearly twice as many boys were the subject of violent crime? Finally, is the Minister aware that three out of every four suicides in the United Kingdom are men? What action will the Government take to show that they care more about the 49 per cent of voters who are men?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am very well acquainted with the figures to which the noble Lord refers. At the heart of the problem of dealing with disadvantaged men and families is the need to provide work for as many people as possible. Since the Government came to power just under 1 million new jobs have been created. Youth unemployment is an incredibly important aspect of the problem to which the noble Lord refers. The New Deal for the under-25s has put on to work 400,000 people, of whom 72 per cent are men. The working families' tax credit is aimed at those who have not worked for a long time and benefit has encouraged them not to work. We are aware of the figures and are determined to provide opportunity for all, particularly in the labour market.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that a few years ago it was reported that the Equal Opportunities Commission had nearly as many cases involving men as women? Can the Minister indicate whether that pattern has continued or been repeated?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the law outlaws discrimination against both men and women. I would be very, very surprised if the activities of the EOC were directed much more towards men than women. However, I shall obtain the figures and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the aim of the Department for Education and Employment to reduce the number of children excluded from school, who by and large are boys, is likely to be the most effective initiative to socialise young men?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that to deal with exclusions from school is an incredibly important way to help young men. It is dealing with the problem right from the start that makes the difference, and as to that I entirely share the views of my noble friend.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the major problems here is the cultural shift away from traditional male-dominated types of employment that involve physical strength? The jobs which have replaced them tend to require academic skills or are of low status. Should we not concentrate on that cultural aspect which makes groups of traditionally working-class men very much less susceptible to the new job opportunities?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not sure that the shift in jobs prejudices men to the extent that the noble Lord suggests. For example, virtually all the growth in computing occupations is filled by men. Although I agree that some consideration should be given to the issues raised by the noble Lord in relation to the new kinds of jobs, it is not all one way.

Baroness Young

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain further how the Government are to deal with some very serious statistics that have been identified? Boys fall about 11 per cent behind girls at GCSEs, and they also fall behind at A-level. There is considerable evidence, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out, that in families without fathers boys are seriously handicapped. It is not a question of money but of having a father in the home.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we could not agree more with the impact and importance of the presence of a father to participate fully in the bringing up of children. The Home Office has made available a family support grant of £7 million over three years. Last year's theme was Boys, Young Men and Fathers and grants were given to a number of schemes. I give three examples: Families Need Fathers; Fathers Direct; and the YMCA's Dads and Lads project. All of those are designed to promote the role of the father in the family.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, if by chance the Government change their mind and appoint a Minister for men will they ensure that that individual, unlike the Minister for Women, can tell the difference between private and public education?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that seems to have very little to do with the Question.