§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
It is vital that parents set out for their children the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and teach them the differences between right and wrong. If parents do not give a lead, then children will not respect them. If there is no respect, then there is no authority. And too many children are entering school with too little respect for authority. Schools must help to reinforce those standards, but teachers alone cannot do the job of parents.
The basic values of decency, self-discipline and respect for others are some of the most important things that we can instill in our children and pass on to them. We must teach children to be responsible parents, and the law provides for that to be done in schools under the Education Reform Act 1988. Today's school children are tomorrow's parents, so that task is vital.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, with which I wholly agree. Does he accept, however, that as a result of social changes one in four of 16-year-olds has seen the break-up of the parental home and increasing numbers of children in my constituency never have a father in the home, so there is no paternal example to follow? In seeking ways of educating for parenthood through the school system, will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind? Otherwise, those future parents will have had no example to follow. They desperately need the support of society as a whole.
§ Mr. Patten
Of course I shall reflect carefully on what my hon. Friend, with his characteristic sympathy for people in difficulties, has said, but it is also right that parents should always try to fulfil their responsibilities, however difficult the home circumstances. I sometimes think that the greater use of more school-home contracts would help in that regard.