HL Deb 16 June 1976 vol 371 cc1257-365

2.45 p.m.

The LORD ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY rose to draw attention to the continuing importance of the family in the changing circumstances of Britain today; and to move for Papers. The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking to the Motion which stands on the Order Paper in my name. I note that there are two maiden speeches, and we look forward with particular interest to what these noble Lords have to say. I am sure they will receive a generous reception in your Lordships' House.

In venturing to draw your Lordships' attention to the continuing importance or the family, I do so in the words of the Motion, in the context of " the changing circumstances of Britain today ". For many of these changing circumstances we can he profoundly thankful. It is possible that the Morning Star does not find its way with any regularity on to the breakfast tables of the majority of your Lordships. I therefore quote from an article entitled " The Battle for a Healthy Society " which I wrote for that paper and which appeared in its issue of 29th May last: Social conditions as I saw them in Manchester and in North London in the early and mid-1930s and as they are in Britain generally in the mid-1970s, present a contrast that has to he seen to he believed. The people of Britain today are far better provided for than they were 40 years ago: they have opportunities for a fuller life, in education, in provision for the elderly, in the care of the sick and in the realm of the arts, of which their parents knew all too little. Who would want to go hack to the social conditions of four decades ago? No-one who knew them at first hand!

Yes; from some points of view changing circumstances augur well for the family. There is less grinding poverty of the kind I saw in North London in the mid-1930s. There are fewer women worn out with child-bearing, since contraceptive knowledge and methods have been made available. An understanding of the marriage relationship in terms of complementarily rather than of dominance of one member of the partnership over the other, of mutuality of relationship, of symmetry rather than of demand and response, of sharing both of goods and of responsibilities—all these have helped in the stabilisation and strengthening of family life. The striking advance during this century in the position of woman in society, the realisation that a smaller proportion of her life is given to the rearing of a family, and that it is quite possible, and very often highly desirable, that she should have a profession of her own and an income of her own—these too have led, and I believe will increasingly lead, to great changes in the pattern of social life and particularly of family life in Britain.

Some, indeed, would argue—and they do so vigorously—that the family as the basic social unit is finished, and that we should cease to regard it with that reverence and take it for granted with that assurance we have accorded it in the past. I believe this would be a totally wrong reaction to the changing pattern of life we see around us. It is deeply significant, to my mind, that some non-Christian cultures—Russia and Maoist China, to take but two examples —which have attempted to develop on collective principles as opposed to the Western patterns of marriage and family life, have turned their hacks on these new patterns and returned in large measure to a reverence for the family, or at least to inter-personal relationships which approximate to the norms of Western society.

It would seem to be difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a substitute for the family. Social instability, juvenile delinquency, the experience that fragile and tenuous sexual relationships do not make for human happiness—all these things have led those who at first wished to abandon it to see that marriage as we know it (or something very similar to it) is necessary if there is to he a stable society in which to bring up a new generation. For security and continuity, a micro-society is called for within the larger body corporate. Marriage provides economic, social and psychological support of a kind which is difficult to substitute, acts as a first line of defence in times of crisis or strain, and provides a small society in which human values are preserved against the pressures of mass living. An anti-family policy will not work.

An examination of such experiments as those I have mentioned might serve as a healthy warning to those who take lightly the rapidly rising figures of divorce in this country. I will not bore your Lordships with too many figures in this debate, but I think a few are necessary to make the picture clear. The divorce rate in England and Wales in 1975 was 320 per 1,000 marriages; that is to say, 120,000 divorces in 1975, which is three times as many as in 1967. I ask your Lordships to forgive these figures, but I believe that they show a very interesting graph. The rate had risen steadily from 8 per 1,000 in 1920, to 11.1 in 1930, to 16.5 in 1940, to 86.1 in 1950, and in the succeeding quarter of a century it leapt from 86.1 to 320.

If we take the figure of 120,000 divorces in 1975 which I have already mentioned, we can see that it is likely that some 200,000 children were involved. Of course, neither the effect on them during the years of their childhood and adolescence nor that on their attitude to marriage when their own time conies to found a home of their own can be calculated. Further, it must be borne in mind that the figure of 120,000 divorces last year does not indicate the total extent of marriage breakdown, for many couples, especially among the poorer sections of the population, simply separated without a divorce.

A modern writer and broadcaster, dealing recently with family life, described it in these terms: … a closely knit environment in which a new generation can discover the meaning of life, and the values upon which life must he based. It is because of the small number of people involved, the intimacy of their relationship and the long period of time in which they arc in close touch with each other, that the family has a greater educational influence than any other group in society. A handful of people, of varying ages, temperaments and interests have to learn how to face together the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows which life brings to them. It is a school for living which has no adequate substitute. For here, more than anywhere else, is learned that interdependence which gives meaning to life.

I think that that writer hit the nail on the head.

If, then, the family must be regarded as the bulwark of a stable society, we should do well to do two things: first, we should ask what are the factors in our society which constitute a major menace to its continuing stability; and, secondly, we should ask what action is called for in the strengthening of family life. The first course may appear to be negative, but it necessarily calls for mention; and the second is wholly positive. Let me come, then, for a moment to those factors in our society which constitute a menace to the stability of our family life. I mention certain things which need very little elaboration, and in no particular order of precedence, but which constitute serious setbacks in the establishing and maintaining of stable family life.

First, I mention bad housing. Many marriages—and the evidence is all around us—get off to a bad start, because the newly married couple have no home of their own. Their accommodation is inadequate, the starting of a family has to be postponed, or else the tension produced by young children in a house where grandparents live with the parents has to be contended with. Tensions are at once created and the roots of bitterness are sown. For all that I said at the beginning of this speech about improved social conditions in Britain today, as contrasted with those of 40 years ago, it is still the case that there are grievously bad housing conditions in certain areas, conditions which, so far from improving as years go by, only worsen and constitute a disgrace to our society. No bath or indoor sanitation—this is not right for a Britain in the late twentieth century! A heading in The Times of 8th June this year ran: Three million homes either unfit or lack standard amenities. That was a summary of the findings of the Building Research Establishment published in its report for 1975.

I believe, also, that further thought ought to be given to the rightness or wrongness of rearing children in high-rise flats, where there is nowhere easily accessible for them to play; where mother is very often cut off from friends and finds herself lonely and, as a result—who can blame her?—bad-tempered; where any sense of community is almost non-existent, and where there is not a blade of grass or a tree to be seen. Is this, I ask, the right environment for a youngster to grow up in? I very much doubt it.

Secondly, may I mention the matter of too early marriage? It is, I think, an undoubted fact—and any graph would prove it—that the proportion of divorces is greater among those who marry very early than among those of any other age group. The fact seems to be clear; the reasons behind the fact are considerably more complex. The earlier age of the onset of adolescence is one reason. The influence of a philosophy—if one can dignify it with that name—which says, I want it, therefore I must have it and have it now; I will not, and I cannot, wait ", is another.

The fundamental falsehood lying behind much that leads to early marriage is the argument that, because a boy or girl is physically mature, he or she therefore has the necessary maturity which is required for marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth, for marriage calls for a maturity of mind and spirit, of the total personality, which goes far beyond the maturity of the body. The lack of that maturity frequently leads to rapid breakdown in the marriage relationship, and sometimes to that exasperation of spirit which leads to wife-battering or baby-battering. Wife-battering seems to be a newly recognised feature of our society. First estimates—and they are never very accurate—point to a figure in the region of 25,000 a year, and this in itself constitutes a grave social problem.

Thirdly, I touch upon the matter of unemployment which, especially when it occurs among the young and the young marrieds, is a shattering experience. It seems to be a part of man's natural dignity that he should have work to do. It is not enough to say that, in the absence of work, the State will provide money more or less equivalent to what the man would earn if he were employed. That is to beg the question, even if the money were adequate. Work, particularly if it is to be of the kind which the worker can see to be worth while—and how much work is not in that category?—provides an incentive for the keeping together of the family unit. Its absence makes for breakdown. The head of a family deprived of work finds himself deprived of a dignity which he feels is his by right. Thereby he senses a diminution of his own authority and he ceases to be a person in his own right and proper stature.

Fourthly—perhaps the factor above all others which leads to the breakdown of marriage and of the security of the home—is, if T may coin a phrase that I want to be a broad one, what I would call the trivialisation of the sexual. I find that this is all too prevalent in our present day society. I would not be so foolish as to begin to compare the morals of the late 20th century with those of a previous age to the detriment of our present society. Some people try to lead me up that very worthless garden path and I always refuse to be led. The imponderables in any such comparison are far too many to allow of any valid conclusions.

I am not one of those who would rewrite the old hymn and ask your Lordships to join me in singing: Backward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, Yearning to recapture The good old days ' of yore ". That is a singularly fruitless exercise. But I would engage in the more profitable task of keeping one's eyes open to dangers around us and ahead of us. When I use the phrase " the trivilisation of the sexual " I do so out of the conviction that sex is to be regarded as a gift of immense value and joy, to be treated with responsibility and with reverence. The attitude of the Church in days gone by has not infrequently been negative, and sometimes oppressive, and it is no good trying to pretend that it has not. But he who charges the Church on that score today shows, I think, that he does not know what he is talking about and is badly out of date. Dr. Jack Dominian recently wrote, and so rightly: Sex should not be seen as something frightening, fearful and inhibiting, but as something from which the renewal of two people, as well as new life, comes. This is a great reversal of Christian thought, from considering marriage primarily as being for the benefit of children, to thinking of it primarily as a relationship of two spouses from whose love children benefit enormously ". It is precisely because the Church appreciates the glory of the thing that it seeks to fence it around from harm. It is because we value human life that we have white lines down the middle of the road or safety belts in the seats of our cars. They restrict our freedom a little—true enough—but they save our lives.

Thus, to lower the age of consent, as some would have us do, would not be kindness to the young but an act of the greatest possible cruelty. Or again, to use the powerful media to stimulate the idea that to be " with it " you must throw over the wisdom of the ages, and that material things matter more than cultural and moral values, is to strike a blow for the undermining of the health of society. To hint that it is a small thing to start a human life, or a small thing to snuff it out by abortion; to teach that abortion does little to the woman who undergoes it and that it can be done with little more effect on her than a tonsilectomy or a tooth extraction; to suggest that a one-parent family is much the same as a two-parent family when all the evidence goes to show that a child needs the support of both mother and father; to teach that any kind of sexual activity will do, and practically at any age; to suggest that acts of homosexuality can be engaged in with impunity by the young whose patterns of sexual activity are as yet undetermined and unformed; to encourage or allow the publication of pornographic literature which inflames instincts which on any reckoning take some strength of character to control and discipline; to suggest that minds cannot be polluted by such stuff as easily as bodies can be infected by dirty water—these things, and like things that often go with them, are the lies which damn, the fifth column that betrays our national wellbeing and undermines the stability of our homes.

Enough, my Lords, of the factors in our society—I have touched on a few—which constitute a menace to its continuing stability. Now I pass on, I hope a little more positively, to ask: what action is called for in the strengthening of family life? Here I would be not only positive but comparatively brief, for others of your Lordships, far better qualified than I, will point the way forward for us.

First, I would plead for education in marriage. I would ask your Lordships to notice how I have phrased that: " Education in marriage ". I am not referring to sex education in the schools which, at its worst, can be little more than the teaching of the physiological facts. Often it is much more and much better than that, but it can be little more than that. I am referring to that kind of educational work which helps to shape the attitudes and expectations of young people to marriage and family life, long before the stage of getting married—the kind of assumptions conveyed throughout childhood and adolescence in such fields as relationships between the sexes, commitment and freedom, sharing, the capacity to adapt and so on. Family life education may be a relatively new concern; it is certainly one of vast importance. Others of your Lordships will, I hope, speak of the importance in this connection of religion in schools—a vast field. I would only say that I think we ought very seriously to bear in mind that courses of lessons on comparative religion can never take the place of the teaching of the facts of the Christian religion and of their ethical relevance.

While I am speaking of education, I should mention the need for the counsel- ing of couples whose marriages are under stress. The criticisms made at the time of the passing of the Divorce Reform Act 1969, that it was wrong to leave reconciliation efforts until instructions for divorce were given seem to be justified. That stage is too late. Counselling is needed earlier and an expansion of the services will need to be undertaken. And when the cost of marriage breakdown in sheer financial terms is recognised, surely it is not too much to ask that more money should be spent on educational and counselling services.

Secondly, I have already said enough about the effects of bad housing and of lack of play facilities for the young on the stability of family life. This, and the attempt to lower the figure of unemployment, should surely be very high on the list of priorities of Government when capital expenditure is being considered. Thirdly, my last plea for the consideration of your Lordships would be this: is it not time that thought were given to the appointment of a Minister for the Family? We have a Minister for Sport and we have Ministers for this, that and the other, but we have no Minister for the Family.

In putting forward this idea, in expressing this hope, I bear in mind the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in his speech last January in this House in the debate on sex education. May I quote four sentences. The noble Lord said: I think I must make it clear … that there are four Government Departments which have a particular interest in this subject "— sex education— The Department of Education and Science in its responsibility for the education service including schools and colleges of further education has perhaps the major interest … The Department of Health and Social Security is also closely concerned because of its general responsibilities for sex education … The Scottish Home and Health Department and the Welsh Office have responsibility for these matters in Scotland and Wales. There is cause for encouragement but there also, I think, is cause for anxiety, for there is always the possibility that when a matter is the concern of too many people it becomes the concern of none: the soup presided over by too many cooks is poor stuff, and this concern may very well fall between two stools, or in this case between four.

On the 2nd May this year the Prime Minister was reported in the Sunday Times as having said: What is needed is more family responsibility and social cohesion. No Government can legislate for it. It can only be done by a moral approach. I believe there is a profound element of truth in that, but it is only part of the truth. Of course you cannot make people good by law; but you can make them had by bad law. There is much that the Government can do. They can protect young parents and single parents where the problems arc basically those of housing and income, and they can do the reverse. Let me illustrate here. The Government decision to abandon the child benefit scheme which was due to start in April next year is bewildering. The alternative offered, of El for family allowance for the first child, will be worth 30p to the average family after tax, and less for the poorer families who in many cases will lose more than £l in the benefits they already get. There was a very wide consensus in favour of child benefits and it was accepted and supported by the TUC. More support was needed, and now apparently it is to be withdrawn in this particular area. I find myself perplexed.

In fairness, it should be said that the new Consultative Document from the Department of Health and Social Security provides for continual expansion, though at a lower rate than in the past live years. Slight increases are envisaged in capital and current expenditure for the mentally handicapped, the mentally ill and the elderly, and that is good, so far as it goes. But the point I am making holds good; namely, the need for a Minister whose task it would be constantly to keep abreast of the facts relating to the family; to study the impact of the Government's social and other policies, including regional employment policies; to ensure that in practice they do not work against the best interests of families, and to watch with an eagle eye the progress of legislation.

A Minister for the Family would find himself surveying the present divorce law, and facing evidence which shows that not only does that law make divorce far too easy, but also that it often proves unfair on the husband, who finds that after his wife has walked out he has to sell his house to provide for his children. Such a Minister would have to consider seriously the value of some kind of service for young people who would otherwise be unemployed. I refer not to military service but to something parallel to it, such as was employed by the Government of Iran who succeeded very largely in reducing their illiteracy rate. Young people were allowed to spend 14 out of 18 of their months of military service in doing not military work but educational work: teaching the children by day, and in the evenings teaching the adults how to read. There was a meteoric drop in the illiteracy rate of Iran as a result of that programme. If some of our young people could he drafted into positive work for the good of our society it would be good for us and for them at the same time.

Such a Minister would cast a highly critical eye on the abortion laws as they now obtain, and on the laws governing the sale of pornographic literature or of the showing of films, the advertisements for which degrade our London streets and those of other cities. Such a Minister would watch the legislation which affects the teaching of religion in schools, and he would do so fully aware of the inadequacies of much that has passed for this in recent years, and also of the fact that I have already touched on, that lessons in comparative religion can never take the place of systematic and intelligent teaching of Christianity and of its ethical relevance to life. Lastly, such a Minister would show himself aware of the ill-effects on society when its structure becomes two-tier instead of three-tier. By that I mean when society is so ordered that grandparents are separated from grandchildren and the only family influence on the young is that of the parents.

If, my Lords, I end by quoting an essay from an eight-year-old entitled What a Grandmother is, I do so not only to provide a slightly lighter element to a speech which your Lordships will, with great unanimity, agree has been over-heavy and over-long; I do so because I believe the essay enshrines a truth which society neglects at its peril; namely, that if a child is to be healthy, and hence if the family is to be healthy, and hence if the nation is to be healthy, the child needs to be given time-consuming attention by its seniors. This can often be provided, not by the next generation but by the next generation but one. How often have we found that things can be done between grandparent and child which cannot be done between parent and child. Explain that as you will, but it is one of the strange facts of life.

This is what that eight-year-old boy wrote with the insight of a child and a charming brevity: A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own, so she likes other people's little girls and boys. A grandfather is a man grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys and they talk about fishing and tractors. Grandmothers don't have to do anything but be there. They are old, so they shouldn't play hard or run. They should never say, ' Hurry up '. Usually they are fat, but not too fat to tie children's shoes. They wear glasses and funny underwear, and they can take their teeth and gums off. They don't have to be smart, only answer questions like why dogs hate cats and why God isn't married. They don't talk baby-talk like visitors. When they read to us, they don't skip hits, or mind if it is the same story over again. Everybody should have one, especially if you don't have television, because grandmothers arc the only grown-ups who have time. The point of that little essay is in the last sentence. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for Papers.

3.19 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, I can imagine few propositions more likely to unite all of us in this House than that so magnificently expounded by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in his moving and delightful speech; namely, the continuing importance of the family in the changing circumstances of Britain today ". We are most greatly indebted for this splendid, all-embracing, wide-ranging survey of the problems of the family. Those of us who have had the good fortune to be brought up in a united family, to have had one ourselves and then known the final joy of being grandparents, are indeed greatly blessed.

Of course, the family has been a going concern for a very long time. It has a lot of experience behind it. It has existed for millennia, indeed ever since the very appearance of man. It has survived appalling threats and appalling strains and has been the healthy private bond in most societies. The biologists tell us that, from analogy, the human species is only at the beginning of its evolutionary career and it may be that other patterns of living together will emerge. But so far, at any rate, the best known way of bringing up human beings is the family. Other ways have been tried but, as the most reverend Primate has said, the family remains the bulwark of our society. In his masterly survey he has identified the factors which endanger the stability of the family today. In a speech on Monday of this week—a speech of great compassion—he highlighted the dangers confronting our society by the menace of racial incitement and racial hatred now spreading in our cities and against which all of us, whatever our sex, age, colour or faith, must make a determined stand. On Monday, as today, he has made it clear that the Church will he heard on social matters. We thank him for it.

I think the most reverend Primate was right to identify some of the beneficial changes which have taken place in our society. I believe it is a more compassionate and civilised society than it was. It is true that urban poverty and deprivation still make it difficult for a large number of families to lead happy lives. But when we compare this with the total misery of not many decades ago, with which so many of us were familiar—the bare-footed and rickety and stunted children, the Dickensian squalor in the heart of our great cities—we see we have made progress.

A major change has been in the status of women in our society. As the most reverend Primate pointed out, relief from the burden of excessive childbearing, equal partnership in marriage and equal opportunities at work have raised that status. In this context I am glad to be a member of the Government which introduced the Sex Discrimination Act. But the biological differences inevitably remain despite growing equality in the pattern of life between the sexes. Their significance was starkly summarised when Mark Twain was asked, " What would men be like in a world without women?" He replied, " Scarce: mighty scarce " This fact was stated more -lyrically by Maxim Gorky when he wrote: Without the mother there is neither poet nor hero. I read recently in an American publication an article about the challenges to the family created by the changing relationship between the sexes. It referred to the plight of the " latch-key " children, a striking phrase which conjures up all too clearly the plight of a child who returns from school and lets himself into an empty house. The article drew no moral conclusion as to the role of women. Its theme was rather that it did not matter which parent was at home when the child came back. It could be the father or the mother or, in relation to the conclusion of the speech we have just heard, the kindly grandmother—but the article ended, " Please God, let there be somebody ". I think that noble Lords will agree that we should echo that prayer.

However, I must not stray for too long in the paths of sociology on which others more expert than I are waiting to give your Lordships the benefit of their views, and in view of the long and distinguished list of speakers I will be brief. I will turn to some of those aspects of the law which the most reverend Primate has mentioned. The law relating to the family has been of primary concern to the Law Commissions since their inception and successive Governments have implemented their major proposals. In England the Divorce Reform Act followed from the Law Commission's survey on what it called " the Field of Choice " as to the grounds for divorce. Then came their comprehensive Report on Financial Provision in Matrimonial Proceedings which has led to better and fairer arrangements for distributing the family assets on the breakdown of a marriage. More recently their Report on Family Provision on Death led to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, and we are now waiting for their Report on Ownership of the Matrimonial Home and Household Goods. The most reverend Primate made some comments on our present divorce law. As to the increase in divorce since the Divorce Reform Act came into force there can, as he indicated, be no dispute. The figures of 60,000 decrees in 1970 and twice as many in 1975 speak for themselves. However, it does not follow from these figures that it is the new divorce law which has caused the increase in the incidence of marital failure or the break up of families.

Your Lordships will remember that the charge against the old divorce law was that, through the rigidity of its grounds based on the matrimonial offence, while it dissolved some broken marriages it left many others, equally broken and equally sources of unhappiness, subsisting in name though not in fact, as " hollow shells ". The breakdown of a marriage is always distressing particularly where there are children. But so, I believe, is the enforced continuation of a marriage that has totally broken down. Moreover, the dissolution of one unhappy family may lead, and indeed often has done, to the creation of one or more happy families in its stead. Dr. Johnson, as your Lordships will recollect, described a second marriage as, " the triumph of hope over experience ". But I am sure we all know of instances where that cynical observation has been disproved in practice and where second marriages have indeed given a fresh opportunity of happiness to both parties and to the families that they created.

Although the present divorce law may be criticised, I do not believe that it would be an improvement to return to the old law of the matrimonial offence. That would indeed, in the vivid phrase of the most reverend Primate, be " marching backwards ". I do not believe it would contribute to the stability of family life. At most it would again conceal the true extent of matrimonial breakdown.

My Lords, I should now like to remove some misapprehension as to possible changes in the law on sexual offences. There is, apparently, a fairly widespread impression that the Government are planning to introduce legislation which would, for example, relax the law against incest, reduce the age of consent for sexual intercourse and amend the law on homsexual offences. I must make it plain that this is not so. The position is that in the light of public discussion of these matters, the Home Secretary has referred the whole question of the law on sexual offences to the Criminal Law Revision Committee. Of course, that Committee is a most distinguished and expert body under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies. They are at work and will in due course report on these matters. Their recommendations will then be considered by the Government. I fear that what has happened is that publication of the evidence submitted to that Com-mittee on behalf of certain organisations has been misinterpreted as indicating that the changes prompted by the Government in these matters are imminent. I say for the second time that this is not so.

My Lords, I understand that questions may be raised in this debate as to whether the Obscene Publications Act is to be amended, or legislation introduced against the display of indecent material. These issues are not easy to deal with, as Ministers on both sides of the House with previous experience of the matter will probably readily confirm. Their solution has, indeed, evaded Governments in most countries. We have debated them quite recently on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the position of the Government remains as my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich stated it then. We share the general con-cern and disquiet about indecent display, particularly of matter which may fall into the hands of children. Speaking for myself, I would welcome an early and workable solution to this problem. We shall look sympathetically at the need for reform of the law when the Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences has made its report.

My Lords, I turn now, briefly, to housing. My own experience in 29 years as a Member of Parliament with weekly surgeries in my own constituency convinced me that bad housing is, as the most reverend Primate has confirmed, one of the principal sources of social misery. The Government are not complacent. We indeed acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the family context. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said recently in Vancouver: We are determined henceforth to build on a human scale. High-rise dwellings are right for some people in some areas. But I do not want to see any more massive schemes of high-rise blocks of family dwellings. Even in inner city areas they create more problems than they solve ". I am sure the House will welcome this acknowledgement and will agree with what has been said before; that is, that although high-rise blocks may have some use they are ill-suited to families with children. I can assure noble Lords that the Government attach great importance to the improvement of the standard of dwellings in general and of the environment.

I regret that in one respect I must part company with the most reverend Primate; that is, on his proposal of a Minister for the Family—attractive, high-sounding, impressive, with respect, though that may sound. I part company with him on that largely because I am not sure, of the useful, practical function that such a Minister could perform. As I understand it from the description we had of him, he would apparently have no executive task, but would act as a kind of universal watchdog on behalf of the family over the whole social field. His main function would be to remind his colleagues of the impact of their work on the family. Frankly, I do not think it would be justifiable to create a new Minister to ensure that the needs of the family are borne in mind when Government policy is being formulated. I think this factor is constantly borne in mind.

It is not lack of awareness of the problems in the family sphere which stands in the way of their solution: unhappily, it is their intractable nature. I have already referred to the Committees which are looking at the law on sexual offences and on indecent display. We have also a Select Committee on the Abortion Act and a Select Committee on Violence in the Family. If I may say so, in this context I doubt whether wife battering is a newly recognised feature of our society. Alas! it has gone on for a very long time, but it is, of course, disturbing that it should survive still today, even to a far lesser extent, as I believe. At any rate, in those fields where the problems arise, there is no lack of investigation, no lack of research and, if I may say so, no lack of good will by the Government to implement helpful and practicable proposals. The theme of the speech of the most reverend Primate was not, I think, that the Government should solve these problems by themselves; clearly they cannot. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, he makes no claim that, " Jim can always fix it ". Effort is needed by all of us, by every family, every citizen. The call that has gone forth today is a call to the nation as a whole.

I fear that in the time available to me I have touched on only a segment of the subject matter covered by this Motion, but I am comforted to know that my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell will be speaking for the Government at the end of the debate, and will no doubt be dealing with the matters in the field of social security and health. May I say that the Government welcome the debate and will take careful note of the views which will be put forward in its course. I know we shall be looking forward with special pleasure to hearing the contributions of the two maiden speakers. I hope that at any rate I have made it clear that I believe passionately in the importance of the family. I believe it has come to stay. I believe everything should be done by the Government, public authorities and, indeed, the whole community, to protect and to sustain it.

3.37 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, we must all be very grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for introducing what I am sure will come to be recorded as one of the most important debates in this House. It could without exaggeration mark the turning of the tide, for it comes at a time when a great many people are seriously concerned at the breakdown of the fabric of society. May I say right at the beginning how much we look forward to hearing the two maiden speakers this afternoon. We shall listen with great interest to what they have to say on this important matter.

My Lords, in the course of his speech the most reverend Primate has given us some figures about marriage and divorce. The devastating thing about all the figures with regard to the family is that whichever way you interpret them, the facts remain the same. There are, it is true, more marriages today than ever before, but out of 400,000 marriages annually, one quarter are for the second time. There are now more divorces, more children in the care of someone other than their parents; I believe the number was estimated to be 120,000 in 1971. The Finer Committee has estimated that there are 100,000 father-only families, and 520,000 mother-only families. More than ever before there are what have come to be called " the yo-yo children "; those who go backwards and forwards, into care, back to the parents, into care, back to the grandparents, and into care again. Child battering, although not new, is on the increase; so is wife battering.

The pattern of marriage has changed enormously this century. The returns of the Registrar-General show that in 1900, life expectancy was 44 years for a man and 47 years for a woman. In 1911 the average marriage lasted for 28 years. But because of increasing life expectancy, by 1967 the average marriage lasted 42 years and it is longer still now. It is not altogether surprising that in the course of this period of time the failure rate has increased, too. After all, it was John Gilpin's wife who said to her spouse: Though married we have been, These twice ten tedious years, yet we No holiday have seen ". Perhaps her complaint is one that might he echoed by many others today.

Not only has the length of marriage changed, but so has the family unit. At the turn of the century, the job of parents was thought to be complete when the children had passed through adolescence, and medical practice, or rather lack of medical knowledge, meant that childbearing was indeed a very risky thing. The incidence of death among mothers was very high. But the tremendous advances of medicine have meant that, unbelievably, infant mortality dropped, from 124.4 deaths per 1,000 in 1911 to 18 per 1,000 by 1970. Fewer pregnancies are, therefore, required to maintain the population. So we have today the development of what has come to be called the " nuclear family "—father, mother, two children, living in a unit on their own, usually separated from all other relatives.

The position of women, too, has altered beyond recognition. I am not someone who subscribes to the view that all the faults inherent in the breakdown of family life can be attributed to women going out to work. Even if true, which it is not, it is not a trend which is likely to be reversed. But I am still asked, more often than anyone would think likely, whether I believe that women should work when they have children. I have always replied that, as someone who has worked throughout married life, not only to bring up three children but at a job, I am certainly not in a position to criticise, if criticism is called for.

What I think is really important is that there should be a choice for girls and for women, and that no girl should feel guilty, as some undoubtedly do now, because she chooses to devote herself full time to her family or, conversely, to have a job. There can, after all, be no more important job than bringing up a family, and the danger of too much emphasis on having a career is that those who choose to stay at home will feel that they have done so because there is absolutely nothing else they are capable of doing. It would, I think, be very dangerous for me to quote anything from the Bible in the presence of so many right reverend Prelates, but if there is something in the parable of the talents it is, I believe that each person must develop the talents that he or she has and that each should have a choice.

What I think is undoubtedly true is that there are now tremendous pressures on girls during a very short number of years of their lives. Before the war, a girl left school at the age of 14, she went out to work, she met her boyfriend, she married him a few years later and, over the space of about 15 or 20 years, she had her family. This process took up a very large proportion of her life, so that each big experience was divided from the next one by quite a number of years. Now, the race is on to grow up and to grow up very quickly. Before a girl has left school at 16 she already has her boyfriend, she gets her job, she marries and, by 25, the chances are that she has had two children. Every great emotional experience has happened within a space of less than ten years. All these emotionally very testing experiences come very quickly together. I am not altogether sure that it is surprising that, at 30, a great many of them either collapse from a kind of nervous exhaustion as a result of having been through too much, or quite simply adopt the modern phenomenon of walking out. I believe this is another trend; husbands are astonished to come home one evening to find that the wife has gone for no apparent reason, and leaving them with the children. I suspect it is because the wife has been through too much too quickly and simply cannot manage at all.

At the same time, while all these enormous changes are taking place, we must, I believe, be living through a time which later generations may well describe as the age of cynicism. Cynics of the past—and I believe there have been some very distinguished ones—usually confined their pamphlets or their remarks to a relatively small, sophisticated circle, and they operated against a background of moral certainty as to what was right and what was wrong. Now, cynicism, which is often most amusingly presented and presented as good entertainment, has been directed at all institutions, including marriage and the family; they are subjected to this cynicism and sometimes simply to light-hearted sneering not because they are not good but because, like all human institutions, they are not perfect. Nor indeed is there a background of stability of belief to help people.

My Lords, what can be done? I would very strongly support the most reverend Primate in his remarks about housing. Housing is basic to the family unit; it is an absolute requirement. I do not intend to be contentious this afternoon, nor, I hope, to make contentious remarks on what is bound to be a highly contentious subject. But I believe we have succeeded in creating a situation in this country where we have more homeless families, more empty properties, longer council house waiting lists and more under-occupation, all at the same time. I feel certain that we could do better. I believe that housing ought to be something that we could resolve. I myself have tried in the course of the last year to suggest two or three practical ways out of the logjam. I believe that it is in this House that we could discuss between the Parties the areas where we have agreement and where we could reach agreement in order to make matters better. I would be prepared to go as far as I can to find any way forward out of what I regard as a tragic situation for the young.

I believe that relatively small amend-ments of the Rent Act would allow people to let part of their own homes and be able to regain possession of their property. This would enormously help young couples, and it would help to reduce under-occupation. I believe that a vastly more flexible arrangement for housing for the elderly would enable them to move, for example, to new towns, where there are many young couples, and so enable young couples to have grandmothers nearer to them. I believe this is not without the bounds of possibility. It is, after all, an administrative matter. I believe that we have learned a great deal about the break-up of whole communities and the dis-astrous policies of redevelopment rather than rehabilitation. I hope that no future Government will encourage the building of high-rise flats and the des-truction of whole communities.

Secondly, I think we could look at changes in taxation. There are still a great many anomalies. Although I do not intend to enlarge on the technicalities of this situation, far too frequently a married couple who are both working find themselves far worse off than they would be if they were living together. Surely, that cannot be a desirable state of affairs. Furthermore, child allowances paid to married couples have not in any way kept pace with inflation. I very much regret what has happened to the child benefit scheme, which would have helped those families which are least well off. It is a tragedy that that scheme was dropped. Furthermore, the level of taxa-tion is such that, in many cases, a man is now better off out of work than he is in work. That in itself cannot be helpful to the family. I return very strongly to the policy of my own Party on tax credits, which we would have introduced had we been returned to Government in February 1974. This is a scheme which would have helped the most vulnerable members of families—children, separated wives and the old—without the need for means-tested benefits.

I am not sure that I altogether go along with the most reverend Primate in his plea for a Minister for the Family. But I take his point that there is a need for far more co-ordination between Depart-ments and a far greater drive between Departments to get something done. My right honourable friend Sir Keith Joseph, when he was Secretary of State for Social Services, initiated a scheme, based on the Department of Health and Social Security, for parent education. That seems to have lapsed. It is not clear how far the Department of Education and Science was ever committed to it. The present Departmental working party on marriage guidance was set up by the Home Office in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Services, but with the latter as a junior partner, and the Department of Education and Science, I believe, was not involved at all. It does seem to me, if these facts are correct—and I believe them to be so—that there is a need for far greater co-ordination and co-operation to help the family.

Lastly, I believe that we need a new climate of opinion. I said a few weeks ago when we were debating social policies that parents must at all times be encouraged to accept their parental responsibilities. Far too often we provide a situation in which they can off-load them on to teachers, social workers or somebody else. It happens not necessarily from ill-intent but because the teacher asks the parents to come to the school, the parents do not come, and the teacher acts unilaterally instead of taking steps to find the parents and to involve them at all stages in the important decisions in their child's life.

I would very strongly support what has been said about early marriage. I think that intense pressures are put on young people to grow up far too quickly; they are made to feel that there is nothing else for them but to have a girl/boy friend at the earliest possible age. I believe that we need a campaign for education for family life, not within the narrow confines of sex education—as if sex were something that can be divorced from people—but education based on an understanding that, for those entering marriage, it is a serious and responsible job and one that involves very hard work indeed. We need far greater understanding for young people to understand what the responsibility of having children really is. A great many people talk nowadays of their rights, but a baby really has a natural right to two parents and to a home. And what I think is so frequently not understood is what very hard work it is to bring up a family.

I was very touched last autumn when the House sat all night on the Community Land Bill and many people very kindly said to me afterwards, " You know, I do admire your stamina doing that all night ". I was tempted to say to some of them, " I have brought up three children and I have, before now, sat up all night with a sick child." I know something about very long hours of work, and I knew it a long time ago. It is not the same kind of work but, believe me, it is a very great worry, and that is what so much of family life is about. It is not something glamorous out of the colour supplement of a Sunday newspaper, to be looked at in the middle of the afternoon in a deck chair in the garden; it is something that requires a great deal of very hard work. Family life is, after all, what people really want, for who does not want to be loved, and to love? Family life still provides the basis of our society and the greatest opportunities for individuals to create their own homes, each of which will be unique, and, in so doing, to make his or her greatest contribution to our country.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I ask your indulgence for several reasons. First of all, this is the first speech that I make in your Lordships' House; secondly, it is the first speech that I have made in Parliament for nearly six years; and, thirdly, the older I get, the less I like making speeches or, indeed, making them up. In the other place, my task was really fairly easy: " Order ! Order !" or, " That is not a proper point of order" does not need a great deal of previous thought. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, this is not the first maiden speech I have made in this Chamber. My first one was over 30 years ago. I made it on the Second Reading of a very controversial Bill, the Trades Disputes and Trade Union Bill. I am afraid I made a very controversial speech, and broke all the rules. I even succeeded in getting an angry Attorney-General to interrupt me during my maiden speech. When I sat down I received a charming note of congratulation—I made the speech from where the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, is now sitting—from the occupant of the Convervative Front Bench. I was very pleased to get it. But somewhat to my disappointment, I saw that it was addressed to Brigadier A. R. W. Low. I am glad to think that the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, really did not suffer very much in his future career from that case of mistaken identity.

The Motion raises very many issues and problems, and on the general approach I agree with much of what has already been said. I was filled with admiration for the broad sweep of the most reverend Primate's speech. I agree very much with what he said about housing, unemployment, and the trivialisation of sex. With regard to the Minister for the Family, I am afraid I lean rather to what the Lord Chancellor said. I could not help being reminded of what Elizabeth I said to Speaker Puckering in, I think, about 1584: Let there be no laws in this Parliament, there being many more already than be well executed. I thought it was tempting to say, but of course, it might be thought controversial, that there are many more Ministries already than be well occupied.

With, I hope, appropriate brevity, I want to say something about three matters which, in my judgment, affect family life. First, the position of the ageing members of the family. I declare an interest. I am not exactly in the first flush of youth myself, and am a member of a large and closely-knit family and, therefore, my interest, I suppose, is enlightened self-interest. Also, I am chairman of the appeals committee supporting the Lord Mayor of London's Age Action Year Appeal. I am told that in this country we are very good at looking after geriatrics, looking after people when they are old, and our geriatric service is the envy of many overseas. But what we are not doing is to attack with sufficient vigour the prevention of senility. As the Lord Mayor put it, " We are one of the few countries in the world where there is no central co-ordinated body set up to research into old age and the process of ageing." This is very much a family matter, as the most reverend Primate has pointed out.

I firmly believe in the three-tier family: ones where the grandparents play an important part. A much loved grandmother, as has already been said, can do a great deal for the family, and not only the usual chores of mending, shopping, cooking, and baby sitting and taking the children out. I adopt at once, so that I keep the right side of the Sex Discrimination Act, the grandfather as a " man grandmother " for this purpose. But in addition to doing those chores, the grandparents are very often people in whom the grandchildren find it easier to confide than in their own parents. Then it begins: forgetting where the spectacles have been put; forgetting where the money has been put; forgetting whether the medicine has been taken; forgetting what the message was they had to give; and the failure to remember names; the failure to recognise members of the family; the inability to follow a conversation, looking and listening but not understanding; finally obvious confusion and distress—in fact, complete senility. At first, received with sorrow and sympathy, then, perhaps, impatience and annoyance and finally perhaps discord in the family as to what is to be done.

If that process can be halted, if it can be halted only for a year or two in each case so that the mind remains healthy, surely it is a very great benefit indeed, not only for the older people themselves but for the family. But we lack the proper research facilities into the facts and causes; the flow of blood; medication; reasons for loss of memory; diet; et cetera. I am told that almost all research into gerontology in this country is carried out alongside other mainstream projects. Certainly those projects should continue, but in addition we need specialised units for research with chairs of gerontology. There are none now. We are behind the United States, France, Switzerland, Holland. The Soviet Union is spending a great deal of money on this kind of research at the present time as well as other Eastern European countries. On present trends in the next fifteen years the number of senile old people will increase by 60,000. There is an obvious case for a national foundation, and that is a major objective of the Lord Mayor's Appeal.

The second matter which I wish to raise is a very different one; it is the strain upon family life caused by one of the children being mentally handicapped or autistic, a strain often leading to an agonising choice. The mother of a mongol son said to me the other day, " I love him very much, but he is getting too strong for me ", and there may be other children in the family to consider. But what is to be done if the child has to leave home? I have become very interested in a type of project now receiving more attention and support, the kind of residential home, sponsored, for example, by the Home Farm Trust, of which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is president, and with which I am associated, where mentally handicapped young people can live with sufficient land for them to grow food, to look after animals, learn carpentry and other trades. The work is therapeutic in itself but is also useful and helpful over costs and there is no arbitrary change at the age of 16. There really have been some remarkable results and some remarkable improvements.

In the Wirral, my home, a similar project is being attempted for autistic children. Suitable premises have been acquired and are being prepared. This is a very difficult field indeed but the Somerset Court Autistic Adolescent Community has shown what can be done. The advantages are several. Although the capital costs are considerable—and in these days must he raised, for the most part, privately, although it would be ungracious if I did not express gratitude to the Department of Health and Social Security for one substantial allocation of money—capitation fees from local authorities cover most of the running costs. The parents can continue to take a close interest and, as I have said, there is no change at 16 years of age. There is always the chance of such improvement that the child can live at home again and he re-absorbed into the family unit.

The third matter to which I wish to refer, a very different one, relates to the family background to truancy and the standard of learning attained by some children. I spoke the other day to a young and keen schoolmaster teaching at a school in a poorer area of a big city. He gave figures for the truancy rate and I found them absolutely staggering, as were the figures of those who went to school but could not read or write and those who left unable to read or write, and he said that the parents could not care less; they could not care less whether their children went to school or whether they learned anything if they did go. That was a cry of despair from an enthusiast and idealist. I have no doubt that there are exceptions, perhaps many exceptions, and that there are parents who do care, but I am afraid that there is a lot of truth in what he said. And what sort of family life can that attitude mean; latch-key children, if they have latch-keys, or otherwise they are in the streets or wherever else they go.

A long-term solution is, I think, very difficult indeed and obviously it will never be a 100 per cent. solution, and whatever it is it will have to be arrived at by a combination of measures which will take a long time to develop. However, in the short-term there are ways to help: by providing a sort of substitute for the firm family base which such children lack, as can be provided by voluntary organisations, boys' clubs, youth movements and the like. I know that many of your Lordships are interested in that kind of work, but I still think that it is a field of endeavour which is inadequately tilled but which could yield rich harvests. I do not think that there is anything like enough support from the community in general, although there are many dedicated individuals working in it. The relevance of this to the subject under discussion today is the hope that these young people can be so influenced in this way, can be given a kind of firm base, that when they themselves marry they will be determined to provide for their children something better than they had.

My Lords, to sum up, under my first heading I ask for support for the Lord Mayor of London's Appeal in this Age Action Year, for the dissemination of the facts, making known the need to move forward in the study of ways to prevent senility. Under my second heading, while realising that the capital costs must be raised privately for the most part, I would urge local authorities and Ministries to continue to help with the capitation fees and perhaps sometimes with materials or services. Under my third heading, I ask for such financial help as is possible and I am sure that many of us hope for a big boost from the response to the Jubilee Trust Appeal next year. Meanwhile, I ask for acceptance that voluntary effort independently organised has a big part to play. There is need for more backing and more interest from public authorities, private concerns and individuals. I believe that along each of these very different paths help can be given to family life. It is not just money. It is interest, support, concern and faith: and if these are there to a sufficient extent they can indeed move mountains.

4.4 p.m.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, I have the good fortune to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, on his maiden speech. His fame in another place has preceded him here and I can see by the way he spoke that we are all extremely pleased to have him come to our counsels. My Lords, the right reverend Primate has already men-tioned some figures and I hope that your Lordships will allow me to mention some more, but they are in no sense mathe- matical figures. I mention them because I do not think the real gravity of the problem has yet been brought out in the speeches I have heard so far.

The first Divorce Act was passed in 1857 and it took a century before I million people had been divorced. The second million people were divorced in the next 15 years and the third million in the next six years; and such is the progression. Today, one marriage in four ends in divorce. In 1973, the last year for which I have figures, there were 171,000 children of divorced families. That is an army of children. To put it another way, the number is equal to the present strength of the British Army. What are we to do about it? I have five points to make and I make them with great sincerity, hoping that the Government will do something about this problem. I do not make them as comments or debating points but as points for action.

My first point is the need to increase the resources of health visitors and community nurses. These are the people who go round and know what is happening and can, if possible, prevent divorces starting. We must do all we can to prevent them because there is often no question of trying to cure them at a later stage when the harm has been done. When a marital relationship is going wrong it is the health visitor who gets to know about it, but health visitors are too few in number. The same applies to community nurses, and I should like to see the Government increase their num-bers.

My second requirement, if I may put it that way, is for State aid to be given to the two marriage research centres in this country. The most reverend Primate has already referred to Dr. Dominian, who has established a marriage research centre at Middlesex Central Hospital, and I must declare that I am the president of this marriage research centre, and a friend of Dr. Dominian. He happens to he a Christian, like me, and he turned to me as someone who had changed his name and thought I might he able to help; whether I do help people by having changed my name it is difficult to know. In any event, he has received no State aid at all—the only State aid that he has received is in the sense that he is not being charged rent within the hospital for the Crown land on which his little research centre works. This research centre is the result of about £100,000 having been collected by the charity of which I am now the president. The other research centre is the Tavistock Centre, which has now moved to St. John's Wood, and I gather that that, too, gets very little State aid. In my view, something should be done about this at once.

My third requirement is for the Government to think very seriously about the most reverend Primate's suggestion of setting up a Minister for Family Life and I completely take up cudgels with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on this. We have done so much in our social security arrangements—so much to prevent starvation and so on—but much of it has resulted in family life being on a more awkward plane; people can be more selfish; and I should like to see a Minister for Family Life. Naturally he would he in the Department of Health and Social Security, but there ought to be a Department watching what is happening every time something comes up. I understand that there is a similar situation in the United States of America and, I believe. on the Continent, too.

I come now to my final point, but it is by no means the least important; in fact I put it at the end so that I can sum up with it. The point is that something should be done about rescuing the Churches from their financial plight. I realise that this may be thought to be a slightly different subject, but the most important element in preserving families is the Christian Churches. It needs to be said and said over again: how can anybody imagine that the decay of Christianity has done anything but have a very poor effect on the family life? The ease with which divorces have taken place, and the legislation which goes through, threatens the families, and the marriage contract now has become no more than a relationship. It is the Churches which are perhaps the residue of those who are trying to keep it as a contract—I need hardly say that I am referring also to the other Churches besides the Christian Churches; I am referring to the Humanist societies which also are concerned with families.

When one comes to think about it, the Churches are short of money; they are trying to repair buildings which are inherited and it is not necessarily their duty at all. In England the Church schools have to pay 15 per cent. of their costs at present, whereas in Scotland the Church of Scotland was wise enough to get a Bill passed so that the Scottish religious schools are provided entirely by the State. It is in matters of this kind that we should try to help our Churches. I sum up by saying that the best marriage counsellor who would, I hope, prevent divorces from taking place is the priest visiting his parish.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in a debate of this kind, and it is a particular privilege to be able to endorse and underline everything that has been said by previous speakers—one can say that only very rarely at this stage in a debate. I refer first to the very thoughtful, compassionate and understanding introduction by the most reverend Primate, which was followed by the eloquent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd. His speech was charming not only in its brevity and its wit, but also in its humanity. I also wish to endorse the remarks of my noble friend (if I may so refer to her) Lady Young. Many of the remarks which I intended to make were of a similar character to hers and so I can now strike them from my notes.

I start the day in a way in which perhaps many of your Lordships are not privileged to do. I take my five-year-old grandson to school each morning, and during the day my mother, who is a 95-year-old of great energy and enthusiasm, is visited either by one of her grandsons or great-grandsons. So I am happy to inform the most reverend Primate that in one particular at any rate the family is alive and well and living in Fulham. Therefore I should like in my short contribution to pay tribute to the mums—the mothers of the nation. I sometimes think that a very gloomy picture is painted in this respect. I see the mothers each morning with two or three small children, all beautifully dressed. They go to the school in the rain and in the snow and, as has been the case more recently, in the warm weather to ensure that their children are at school by nine o'clock. Only a woman can appreciate what this means.

This represents much energy, love and concern, and I have had the privilege of working with this group for a long time now. They live in the kind of conditions about which so many of your Lordships have already expressed concern—these wretched high-rise blocks of flats. They live in old centres of decaying cities, surrounded by demolition or areas where people dump all their rubbish and where there is no real open space for the children to play. They live in expanded towns, or in some of the new out-county estates. These are soulless, vast places, without any of the amenities that make life bearable. Through all this they not only survive but create a wonderful family life.

I remember on one occasion visiting a young wife in what was laughingly called " temporary housing accommodation ". I told her, " I think you are terrific. You have four small children and a lovely home, and it is all thanks to you." Tears came to her eyes, and she said, " No one has ever said that to me before, whereas the girl down the road, who has been cruel to her children, has had support and help from four social workers." Do we say, " Thank you " enough to the people who really do the job well? Or do we constantly look towards those who have fallen down on it? No one, whether he be extreme Left or extreme Right, would deny that the family is the basic centre of a stable society. It is a unit linked together. But it must be a unit linked together by the right kind of ties; by love, by respect for one another, and by a recognition that each person is a separate human being.

The mother has a very unique role. No other human relationship has exactly the same delicate link with another human being. We in our society do not always help the mother to carry out her very special responsibilities. I sometimes get the feeling that in this country we do not really like children. We certainly do not make it easy for those who have to move about with very small children. I recently saw a pregnant mother struggling up an escalator with two small children, and of all the dozens of people passing by I, a grandmother, was the only one to step forward to do anything about it. One travels on public transport every day and sees the inconvenience and the difficulties to which the mother with small children is subjected. I have in mind, for instance, when the mother goes shopping, or when she visits a hospital, and may have with her other children besides the child NN ho is being taken for treatment. I wonder whether any of your Lordships have ever had to try to take the clothes off one child to enable the doctor to examine it, while trying to keep an eye on two other toddlers, to see whether they are running up and down the cor-ridors.

I sometimes think that we even design our cities to make life difficult. Have you ever tried pushing a pram up and down rough kerbstones, which are certainly not designed for this kind of vehicle? The myth remains that the family is not affected by unemployment, poor living and lack of opportunities. But I shall underline what has been said this afternoon by telling your Lordships of what a young priest of my acquaintance told me of his very recent experience in a large provincial urban estate where, he said, violence within the family seems to him to spring not from what they see on television but from the frustration and the ignorance which come from lack of knowledge of sexuality and indeed from the pressures that we exert by our society. Fie made the rather witty comment that there is something very ironic in sitting in the average small house looking, on television, at the " Cinzano high life "—with all apologies to Cinzano, in case I get a writ for defamation! We increase people's expectancy of the material things and then wonder, my Lords, why that is what they devote their whole energies to obtaining.

How far do we counsel our young people in the arts and problems of marriage? Even now, instruction in parentcraft when a woman is pregnant is mainly a voluntary exercise; and while no one would employ a typist who admitted she had never touched a typewriter before, we leave a woman, having given birth to a baby, without any kind of instruction or help unless she voluntarily seeks it. It seems to be considered that there is some divine inspiration that teaches you the skills of caring for another human being. The frightening figures of child cruelty in this country show how far we still have to go.

My Lords, what of the status of women which has already been referred to? I believe that the position of the homemaker still does not get the status it deserves. If you are a home-maker—and I prefer to call a woman that rather than " a housewife "—when you fill in a tax form you describe yourself as " non-gainfully employed ". Your Lordships may ask how important this is; but from the lack of recognition within society flow the difficulties of the disabled housewife and of the widow, and indeed the fact that the woman herself, when you ask her what she does, always replies, " I am only a housewife ". To that I promptly reply, " A home-maker is the most highly-skilled and most rewarding occupation that anybody could have "; and we must say it loud and clear if we want the woman to remain as the heart of the family. There are 14 million children in this country, and the responsibility for the welfare of these children rests on a minority of the population. My Lords, 81 per cent. are in a quarter of all households, so it behoves those who do not have children to recognise that they will have to make a contribution, even though it may be through taxes and child benefits.

May I make some brief reference to the one-parent family? I take as an example a member of my staff who was first widowed, then remarried, was then deserted and has finally been divorced. She is left with the sole responsibility of bringing up four children. One day she alone must visit the doctor about one child's health; another day she must go to the headmaster to talk about the second child; another day she must discuss the problem of mortgage. These are some of the many tasks which, in a two-parent family, would have been shared by two people. There is a very large number of these one-parent families, and they are a group which merit our maximum help and support, both monetarily and in other ways.

I am not today going to harass the Government, they will be very glad to know, by asking for too many things, but may I ask them to look again at what they are doing to the child benefits scheme? It seemed to me that maybe they were considering a little too much the man's tax problems and not enough the fact that the woman derives great benefit from the child benefit being paid directly to her. And before anybody says that it is spent on gin and cigarettes, I can assure your Lordships that I know that all the mothers I see save up that little bit of money in order to go and buy some clothes, or some such thing. for their children. We need far more support for the mother and the child. We need more nursery schools. We need support and help for the working mother. Often, she has to work; she has no alternative.

My Lords, I conclude by asking your Lordships to recall that the child who has the happy, the loving and the stable family life will inevitably be the good citizen, and we are, after all, if we as Christians believe this, part of one family, and our responsibilities are to one another. I like, particularly, the thoughts of one of the Indian poets—not a Christian, hut obviously a man who loves, first of all, people, and, secondly, particularly children. He says: Your children are not your children but our children. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for their thoughts dwell in the realms of tomorrow ".

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, as is customary in your Lordships' House, as I speak for the first time here I ask for your Lordships' indulgence. My plea for that indulgence is all the more strong as I find myself speaking in the middle of a long list of speakers, all of whom are much more distinguished than I am. I speak simply as one who has tried to consider the matter of the family against Christian background and teaching. In this, I have been helped by my membership of two London churches. One, South of the river, has a large and varied congregation; and the other, in the City, is attended each week by about 1,000 men and women, most of them in early adulthood, so they have a wide experience of the problems posed by the challenges today to our traditional concept of the family. In particular, their concern is that what they see as the prevailing tendency nowadays to avoid becoming committed to anything, and therefore sometimes to take the easy way out when the going gets tough, is spreading to family relationships, especially to marriage; and it is on this subject of commitment that I should like to base my few remarks.

With a certain amount of trepidation in this company, and at the risk of gross oversimplification, I should like to pick out three areas of Christian teaching on the family which I feel are relevant: first, that marriage should be a life-long partnership based on love; secondly, that parents and their children have duties to one another; and, thirdly, that there are certain courses of action which can damage the family and the family relationships, and which therefore should be avoided. I mention these points, not in order to moralise on them, for even if this were appropriate in your Lordships' House I am certainly not the person qualified to do so. Rather I mention them because through each of them I find a practical thought, which is that family relationships are based on commitments which can be renounced only at the cost of pain and unhappiness—tension and insecurity in the house, broken homes, runaway children and abandoned children, with all the social and psychological problems with which we are familiar. Even the tacit admission of the possibility that the commitment of marriage or parenthood can be renounced can undermine and change the family relationship, and yet the alternatives that one finds put forward to the traditional family concept are often advocated for the very reason that they seek to avoid total commitment. I find that this is contrary to Christian teaching, and therefore likely to end in unhappiness.

My Lords, the pressures on the family today have been well covered already in this debate, and we shall no doubt hear more on such points as housing, unemployment, pornography, advertising and so on—all very important. More difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps no less serious, is the widespread and possibly growing tendency to feel that there is no such thing as right and wrong except what one chooses to believe oneself. In my view, Christian teaching seeks to protect us against these and other dangers by instilling in us a sense of total commitment, so that the abandonment of our family responsibilities is not thought of as a possibility. Certainly, we should be unlike the lady I heard of who was travelling by train with a baby on her knee. She leaned across to the man opposite and said, " Here, you have a mackintosh. You take him!" Instead, it encourages us when the going gets tough—as it undoubtedly will—to find a way through by determination, by compromise and by prayer.

So that there is no misunderstanding, I should emphasise that in these remarks I am not advocating that those w ho make a disastrous mistake should be made to live with it, regardless of the consequences. That is a very different question, one which has to do with dealing with the effect of trouble rather than seeking to prevent it by helping a man or woman approach family responsibilities in the right frame of mind.

The Church with which I am associated tells me that their experience is that far too many couples approach marriage without any idea of what it involves. Without the time and resources available to them at that stage, there is little they can do. I would therefore put a question similar to that put by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I would ask whether more could not be done through the educational and social services to help those who might at some future time bear any family responsibility to understand the nature and extent of the commitments involved and the degree of commitment required. I would urge the Government to make every effort to make this an essential part of sex education and preparation for parenthood in the schools. At the same time, I think we should note the value of religious education in this connection.

Furthermore, I wonder whether the social services could not provide, and give publicity to, greater facilities for counsell-ing before marriage. If this leads to fewer broken marriages, then money would be saved in another direction. I would ask the Government to work through those voluntary organisations in this field and only those whose teaching is based on the committed family. To end, I would thank the most reverend Primate for introducing this debate and for the way in which he did so. It has been an honour to take part in it.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, it is a very genuine pleasure to be able to offer the congratulations of the whole House to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I can remember how very nearly paralysed with nerves I was when I first addressed your Lordships' House. He has acquitted himself with great distinction and I am quite sure that we all look forward to hearing him on many future occasions. Next, I should like to say how much I enjoyed and how much I agree with the speeches made by the two noble Baronesses, one on either side of the House.

If I may, rather than look at family disintegration or break-up or divorce statistics, I should like to pose the question of whether there is such a thing as " normal family life ". I believe there is, and I believe most of your Lordships will have grown up experiencing such a thing and that we can all recognise it when we see it and meet it. To my mind for normal family life to be present one first needs two parents. One needs the spiritual factor of loving and affectionate relationships between all members of the family. Preferably this should be backed up by a commitment to permanent lifelong marriage. In addition one needs the material factors of an adequate roof over the family's head and an adequate income.

Having said that, may I now look at certain things which militate against normal family life. Two of them have already been touched on in this debate. make no apology for returning to them. First, housing stress: the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor touched on this as did the most reverend Primate who mentioned the difficulties of young families living with their in-laws and other families living in appallingly bad physical housing conditions. I would mention the statutory homeless, those who have lost or who have never had a home of their own, and those families who are obliged to live in premises where no children are allowed. There are other families who suffer from gross overcrowding, and others who are obliged to share the basic facilities of cooking and washing. It does not require much imagination to envisage the effect that these conditions have on family life.

Secondly, there have been several mentions of the difficulties that face the one-parent family. My noble friend Lady Young touched on this, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. This whole question has been extensively researched by the Finer Committee and I think we are beginning to see that the one-parent family is an amputated family. We know some cases are only temporary: for example, the wives and children of men in prison. But others are much more permanent, and I am thinking of widows, deserted, separated and divorced wives. It is among this group that we find the combination of bad housing and low income. It is among this group that there is a very great burden placed on the one parent who has to take on the roles of both father and mother.

Another category of families greatly at risk and in need of help are those in which one member of the family suffers from a handicap. This may be a physical handicap, the effect on the family of which will strike anyone and I will not say much about that. I will leave that to my noble friends on the " mobile benches ". I should like to say a little more about the families with a mentally handicapped member. This is something which is less obvious to the general public. But such simple things as arranging a holiday or getting the services of an experienced and knowledgeable baby-sitter may pose real difficulties. The stresses on a marriage where there is a mentally handicapped child can be very great. I would mention such things as the fear that subsequent children may also be born handicapped and the worry about the future of the handicapped child when the parents grow old or eventually die.

It may be said that the factors I have just mentioned affect only a minority of the families in this country. That may be true, but I would reply that housing stress already affects an intolerable proportion of all families. I would point out that children in one-parent families exceed I million and that more handicapped children are being born year by year, that more of them survive and more of them live to grow up into handicapped adults.

We know that this is a time of economic stringency and that little, if any, money is available for new projects even to help such deserving categories of families. But I would ask that more ingenuity be devoted to them: that we work harder and think harder about their problems: that we should give greater scope to individual responsibility and that we do not leave everything to he done by official bodies: that we should try to enlist greater voluntary help and greater self-help so that whatever the difficulties and temporary problems all families throughout the whole nation may be enabled to enjoy normal family life. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke about a call to the nation. This to my mind is the call which should go out. I hope that it will be taken up by the mass media and broadcast to every corner of the land that there shall be no family unable to enjoy what I have described as normal family life.

4.40 p.m.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I too should like to begin by offering sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I very much enjoyed his maiden speech. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a declaration of the United Nations. This is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(3). This Article states: The family is the natural and fundamental group-unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State ". I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply for the Government whether the Government will now reaffirm their support for this Article. I should also like to draw your Lordships' attention to the UNICEF Declaration of the Rights of the Child. 1959, in which Principle 2 states: … the child shall enjoy special protection, and shall he given opportunities and facilities, by law, and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity I would ask your Lordships whether freedom from pornography, which at the present time shouts at us from so many different places as we pass by, is not a protection which we should give to our children and young people. I think it is generally admitted that the definition of, " tendency to deprave and corrupt " is one which has not worked in practice. I wonder whether a simple definition of " gross indecency " to be decided by the jury would not be more helpful. It would have to be accompanied by a change in the right of challenge of the jury which at the present time, with often the printer, publisher and author involved, gives 21 challenges which are used very cleverly to result in a very young jury. When I was young I thought that more or less anything went. Now I am a little older and perhaps a little wiser—although still one of the youngest Members of your Lordships' House—I realise that there are a great many things in life which if just let go will lead to unhappiness for someone. I feel that the effect of pornography is in this category, and I should like to ask the Government whether they can tell us what their thinking is on this matter.

My Lords, I should also like to make a reference to incest. This surely must be one of the most harmful influences on family life. It must produce enormous stress on those concerned. Of course the law must be applied flexibly and humanely; but to alter the law itself would surely imply approval of an act which the great majority of people would regard as abhorrent. I suggest to your Lordships that the same arguments apply to the age of consent. So often the influence of the media seems to he directed against family life. Of course, family life is not perfect; I know my own is far from perfect. Nor are the media perfect. either. I feel that they could use their great influence in support of family life rather than in making fun of it. I believe it was Burke who said: For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing ". I suggest that this is the time for all good men, particularly in the media, to do all they can for the family.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should first of all like to apologise to the most reverend Primate for the fact that, due to along-standing business engagement, I was unable to hear the main part of his speech. Hearing just the last 10 minutes of his speech convinced me how very worth while this debate has already been. Listening as I occasionally do early on Sunday mornings to an admirable programme entitled " Sunday ", I and others have heard the most reverend Primate's words of wisdom as well as those of others in a programme which can teach one a great deal about family life, not only in this country but throughout the world through the medium of the Church. I should also like to join in the congratulations already extended to the noble Lords, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, and Lord Robertson of Oakridge, on two outstandingly brilliant maiden speeches—often may they be heard in further debates in your Lordships' House.

At a time when Parliament is tending to tear itself apart—at least metaphorically —it is a characteristic measure of the sanity of your Lordships' House that we should debate a subject which transcends Party politics and which I think transcends religions. The family is surely the root of our life. Like many of your Lordships, I am a lather of teenage children—if one can still call them " children " these days—and one who has just left her teens. Frequently, we disagree with their views, as they do with ours, but in the last analysis, a reconciliation of views very often transpires. My own daughters, aged 20 years and 17 years, are both active members of the Church. One is at teacher-training college at Nottingham. She is a pillar of activity in one of the churches in the centre of the city. The other daughter helps to read to elderly people and has recently taken on a part-time Sunday job in helping elderly people, since she is hoping to be a nurse.

All this brings me into contact with people in all walks of life and with all branches of family life. Mention has been made of the elderly. Before the reorganisation of the National Health Service, I served on the House Committee of one of the seven mental hospitals in the area in Surrey where I live and I have seen something of the geriatric problem there. In many cases—and this is probably so all over the country— these elderly people are not necessarily in hospital because they are mentally unstable. They are there because, through many circumstances, they have no family which is available or willing to look after them.

A case was mentioned only yesterday in Cheshire about the ruling of the Registry authority on an edict that elderly people in a mental hospital in the Cheshire area should be allowed to vote. The Recorder of Warrington has decreed that they should be allowed to vote, even though they have no families or people to look after them and are therefore resident in a mental establishment, because they are of sound enough mind to know what is going on around them. I believe that that is quite right and that they should be allowed to register their vote. This, one hopes, will bring them into some further contact with family life.

Many years ago one's concept of the family centred round the piano, with the father, or at any rate some fathers, leading the singing. Nowadays, perhaps, life is lived rather more round the tele-vision screen, except that, if there is more than one generation, there may be differences of opinion as to which channel should be chosen. Who among us has not had such an experience? We all know what tact and talent for arbitration is needed to sort out this problem.

In most cases it is the mother or the wife who has to cope with the difficulties in the home. I know of the experience of my own life. My wife, like many Members of your Lordships' House, is a magistrate and thus comes into contact with many family problems. After her work, she comes home and from time to time may well face problems with our own children. I get home after a problematical day at business or a long sitting in your Lordships' House and perhaps I may not be in the best of tempers. It cannot be too strongly stressed that our wives have an enormous amount to cope with—and how well they cope, even if at times we are critical and say things which can hardly be described as kind, and which certainly do not conduce to good family life.

Turning to children, even now there is the problem of the " latch key " child—the child of seven or eight, who comes home after school with no parent in the house, both father and mother possibly being at work. Particularly during the winter, it is necessary to get some heating going and this can have tragic cones-quences. These things all cause dangerous pressures on family life.

It is fitting that the highest representative of the Church of England should so admirably have moved the Motion we are debating today. I believe it brings us back to reality and it will, I hope, help to reunite our nation at a time when family life is in some danger of disinte- grating because of a number of reasons already mentioned. For example, we have an all too liberal society in which too much freedom seems to be given. I believe that there are tendencies now, particularly among the young, to do a complete switch-over, though not necess-arily to Victorianism. The fact is that, having seen some of their friends under the influence of drugs, pornography, and so on, they have realised the consequences of these things. Perhaps previously they may have pooh-poohed such results and may have accused parents of being out of touch or " not with it ", and so on.

Looking to the future, as one must, we may well find future generations adopting a harder and perhaps a more Christian attitude to the bringing up of children. One thing is quite certain: whatever may be said in some sections of the popular media, in the church in the village in Surrey where my family and I live, young and old certainly co-operate strongly in the running of the church. We are fortunate in having an outstandingly fine rector and some very good curates. The young people work very hard in a number of groups and the church is nearly always reasonably full, particularly in the evenings. I believe that it is through the Church that family life will ultimately succeed or fail.

4.57 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I am pleased to hear that since our debate on pornography there have been profitable discussions with the Home Secretary and that the whole question of obscene display has received a sympathetic hearing. Looking at our Hansards, we seem to produce quantities of words in this House, and it is encouraging to feel that our words sometimes have a good effect. Let us hope that that will be the case today.

At one time I would have considered that a personal, stable, one-to-one relation-ship out of which grew family life, with its ties and pattern of life, was an essential part of human nature. I think this was everybody's ideal—the dream of young love—but one becomes increasingly familiar, in personal as well as national life, with the fact that stability is not the outcome of many such relationships. whether or not that was the original idea. It is rather easy to say, " I think most people want this or that ", because we want to believe it. But human nature being what it is, we are rarely satisfied with what we have. We want freedom for ourselves and restrictions for others.

As children, we thought that everything was as it seemed to be and it is only as we get older that we realise that this is not so. We all act a part, but the adult occasionally sees behind the mask of families. We do not always find marital bliss: in fact, it is rather rare. Many start off expecting bliss, and many settle for very much less. Some people seem to become very cruel as the years go by. Some men become domineering as they get older and wives become slaves, but I hasten to say that this works in reverse also.

We are all striving for a relationship that will flower, give pleasure and bring forth fruits of comfort, security and companionship, but often we are contemptuous of those with whom we arc familiar and cruellest to those to whom we should be kindest, and the fruits of the harvest are dry and bitter. We are often more charitable towards strangers than we are to our own kith and kin. This is one of the facets of human nature that is very destructive of marriage.

Do not let us waste our time with allusions to the family joys of the good old days. We cannot make any comparison between 1976 and 1876. If. in 1876, a man had a comfortable home, he was the lucky one. Not only his home but his security for old age, not just his heart but his treasure, was a careful hardworking wife. And it was together, and by staying together, that theycould provide the necessities of life for themselves and their children, and put aside something for a rainy day.

But what have we today? The State has taken over the rôle of family provider. Just as the use of insecticides has produced an unexpected chain reaction upsetting the balance of nature, so we have the paradox of good intentions producing harmful results. To give one example, a young girl with a part-time job has just moved into a quite expensive flat. I wondered how she managed with only part-time work, and her reply was:" "Well, if I worked full-time I could not afford it. Now social security pays." The State now provides for families that would not have existed in the past. The weak, the idle and the incapable were weeded out by the harsh realities of life.

We have the recent case of a man with 11 children receiving £70 a week in social security benefits, a man who has been kept in idleness by the State for six years receiving far more for doing nothing than my husband does for working full-time. How many men can take home £70 a week after tax? In my home town of Hastings, in May, there were 1.776 unemployed people, but one local firm may have to turn away business because it cannot get enough workers. These cases are common, causing great discontent, and the lesson for youth—tomorrow's family—is clear. The old way is over. There is an easier, better way to live. My Lords, it is the way to disaster for us all.

My view on the survival of' the family as we know it today is pessimistic. Society has changed too much and too quickly. There is a malaise spreading through the country. Weakness and idleness seem to he encouraged. Vandalism, hooliganism, muggings and crimes of violence are on the increase. We seem to have lost the standard of public be-haviour that was once our national pride. The turmoil of the street reflects the instability of the home.

Our people have turned to Mammon and dance again around the golden calf, and worship at the altars of the pound sterling. Mene-Mene-Tekel-Upharsin. The writing is on the wall for us, and our modern Daniel, Solzhenitsyn, has translated it clearly. Could our debate serve as did the warning of Jonah to Nineveh, it would have served some purpose. Let our leaders, men like Mr. Callaghan and Mr. Jenkins who have greatly impressed the nation with their integrity and decency, proclaim, as did the King of Nineveh, a new order, a new priority that will turn us back as a nation to the straight and narrow path.

5.4 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

I am a great admirer of the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, but I cannot in the time available attempt to do justice to her or to the other 10 previous speakers. I must rather try to do more justice to the 15 who are to follow me, and I can do that only by keeping a much closer eye on the clock than I did on the last occasion when I addressed your Lordships. But I must, at least, pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop, who is clearly recovering from his exceptional labours, for his great initiative and splendid oration: and to the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, of whom the same appears to be true. But the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is with us and I can, at least, salute him and refer to his speech as one of the highest quality. He brings to this House an honoured name which he himself will clearly make still more honoured.

With the 15 speakers to follow never far from my thoughts, I assure your Lordships that I propose only to lay down a few simple propositions, and I trust you will forgive me if they are not argued at length. We can all agree that the strength and stability of the family is essential to the health of our society. Nobody is likely to challenge that—certainly, nobody who has spoken or, I hope, who is likely to speak later. Secondly, we can agree that for this purpose love and security in the home provide by far the best background. Thirdly, I hope we can go further and agree that this same atmosphere of love and security is much more likely to arise where the parents are bound together by the aspiration of lifelong loyalty, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, dwelt on that aspect with very telling eloquence.

I was just saying, before the return of the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop, how deeply I admired his initiative and the speech with which he inaugurated this debate. Christians believe that such a lifelong pledge of loyalty is, in its turn, more likely where there is a religious conviction regarding the sacredness of marriage. God, who is love, is at the very core of a truly I Christian marriage. Parents, in the Christian view, participate with God in his own creative work and children are received and welcomed as his gifts. Nevertheless, there are many—perhaps some people here, and certainly plenty in the country—who would not call themselves religious, but who would insist that their marriages are just as satisfying and full of love as those of; Christians. While recognising that, 1 shall not pursue the religious argument further today.

My next submissions are slightly more controversial, though not, I think, out of line with anything that has been said so far. We are aware that the number of divorces has been rocketing in recent years, and the change in the divorce laws cannot be ignored in this connection. My own record in this matter is not without blemish, because I was election agent many years ago to A. P. Herbert, who introduced the Herbert Act. I feel sure that, in spite of my affection for him and his fine character, I shall do many years in purgatory for that irregularity. But I assure the House that I have not done any harm in that connection in the last 40 years.

One must regretfully conclude, leaving out the change in the laws, that the idea of the lifelong commitment, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and others, is a good deal weaker today. One cannot prove a statement of that kind, but I challenge anybody to deny that it is weaker today than it was some years ago. It has not, of course, disappeared. It still inspires, I should hope, the great majority of marriages. One hundred people admire the family life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for one who admires that of Elizabeth Taylor, and there is no doubt that family ideals still command the assent of the great majority of the nation. Nevertheless, this idea of commitment is a good deal weaker than it was and, if the divorce figures are any guide, it is becoming weaker with each passing year.

I am not such a pessimist as the noble Countess—who is the most cheerful-looking pessimist I have ever encountered —but I understand what she means in that connection. What is the explanation? Why is this commitment weakening? I do not myself accept the view—it can be argued—that this is all due to a decline in religious belief. I do not personally accept the view that this is a less religious country than it was when I was growing up, though one would like to see it vastly more religious than it ever was. I myself connect the rocketing of the divorce rate to some extent with the availability of contraception; but, more fundamentally, I would link it with the large extension of sexual practices outside marriage, whether before or after marriage. At any rate, the two unhappy trends— the rise in the divorce rate and the extension of sex outside marriage—undoubtedly have gone forward simultaneously, and we are entitled to seek an explanation common to both of them.

In each case one must refer to the availability of contraception, but I do not regard that as the most fundamental factor. Much more fundamental is the emergence of a far-reaching attitude which can he called a by-product of democracy—and we are all, I am sure, strong democrats in this House. I refer to the widespread opinion today that one is morally entitled to seek pleasure wherever one happens to find it: that one has not only a right but almost a duty to seek it. Everybody does not hold that view but it is very much stronger than it used to be.

The assertion of this so-called right is usually accompanied—in sophisticated quarters, at any rate—by the qualification, " so long as one does not harm others ". But this harm to others is just what indiscriminate sex has brought about throughout the ages. There may be something to he said for adultery, but we have not heard it said in this House this afternoon- and perhaps we shall not —and for the moment I cannot think what it is. But nothing more anti-social than widespread adultery can readily be imagined. Imagine a country in which adultery was universal. The mind boggles at that ghastly prospect. Certainly adultery is the most deadly antagonist of family happiness—surely that is a platitude rather than a bold assertion—and if it once became part of our normal way of life we could regard the family as finished: that indeed the time had arrived which the noble Countess fears is coming, anyway.

Many of us have dear friends whose marriages have broken down. That has been stated earlier more than once. We attach no blame to them and we would always do anything in our power to help them. In many cases their second marriages are happy and we are over- joyed that that should be so. But it is not these admirable people, a relatively small minority, who are sending the divorce figures rocketing upwards. The figures are rocketing, not as the result of any high-minded activity, but because a high proportion of the population no longer treat marriage as a life's commitment. They feel under no obligation to try to keep their marriages going, albeit under difficulties. Many of them persuade themselves that there is nothing wrong in throwing over their existing partner and gaily embarking on a new alliance. It is this point of view which is the deadly menace.

Differing a little from the noble Countess here, I am not one who believes that this country is going to the dogs. As was said earlier by the most reverend Primate—and I am very glad he began in that way so as to remove any misconceptions—in many ways I believe that our society is today vastly better than it has ever been. It is more compassionate. We are more aware of our responsibilities to those who cannot look after themselves. Whatever Party was in power, I am sure that today we would never tolerate the hell of the distressed areas, to mention only one aspect of the pre-war years. But in the all-important area of fidelity in marriage I am sure we ought to face the fact that our standards have fallen and that our performance has, not unnaturally. deteriorated. One would expect that performance to deteriorate if standards fell.

I support all that has been said and may yet be said about the positive steps that the Government should take to encourage the family spirit, including most certainly the establishment of a Minister for the Family, and I support entirely the most reverend Primate. But, in the end, the health and stability of the family will depend most of all on the degree of unselfishness and fidelity shown by fathers and mothers up and down the country. I am not for a moment a defeatist.

In the endless struggle for morality and sanity in our national life we have admittedly lost one or two battles in recent years, but whether the war is won or lost depends on ourselves in the present and in the future. This country has before now shown herself capable of moral regeneration when things looked dark. The Government cannot divest themselves of responsibility. They cannot pass the buck elsewhere—nor can the Churches, nor can any of us, particularly those of us who play our part in public life. I believe that the people of this country are, deep down, as full as ever of the ancient family virtues. I believe that, given enlightened and inspiring leadership, they will demonstrate those virtues more bravely than they have demonstrated them in recent years. I believe also that they will hand them on enhanced and, where necessary, adapted to our children and our children's children.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was good enough to tell me that his name was on the list of speakers by mistake. As mine was on it on purpose, I am ready to detain your Lordships for, I hope, not too long with one or two things that I should like to say. First, I must pay my tribute, as have others, to the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate with such an inspiring speech. Then I should like to congratulate your Lordships' House on the fact that we have got through 12 speeches in just over two hours. I hope that example may well be followed for quite a long time to come.

Now I must pay my tribute to the maiden speakers—to the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I served exactly 20 years ago under the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, as Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office. It is good to see that he survived that experience, and other more formidable ones, with such unruffled composure. As for the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, his assured and charming speech would have made him an excellent Speaker, had he been in another place at the right time. We look forward very much to hearing in future from both the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd.

A few years after the war when I was in another place Stanley Evans, who was then in the Labour Party—I do not think that he was a Minister then—led an all-Party delegation to Moscow. On one occasion —I was not there but some of my friends were—while they were there the Com-missar, who was host at a party raised his glass to the toast, " Here's to our relations". Stanley Evans was fairly bored with the proceedings…not without reason—by this time, and was heard to say in a rather louder tone than sotto voce, " Our relations … he can have some of mine ". He was, of course, being funny, which is why I have told the story, but it leads on to what I want now to say: that none of us who has had a happy family life can afford to be smug. Nothing is sadder than the knowledge that many families have not been, and are not, happy. Mine, from childhood onwards, has always been happy and for that I shall always be supremely grateful to those, both past and present. who have made it so.

The only point I wish to concentrate upon is the attack on the family as an institution, and I was very glad that the most reverend Primate went straight to that point in his speech. I have watched with concern the crowing tendency over the years to attack the family as an institution. This attack has by no means always been indulged in by evil men. I remember my old friend Dr. Edmund Leach's Reith Lectures in 1967. I think that he is a very good man, but in those lectures he said things which I have never forgotten and have never quite understood. He said, for instance, and I quote: Far from being the basis of the good society the family with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrecy "— he meant by that a reference to monetary affairs— is the source of all our discontents …". Then: the contemporary English monogamous neo-local nuclear family "— whatever that is— with its matrifocal emphasis is historically an unusual form of domestic grouping. If by a " neo-local nuclear family " he meant " a family " (and I take it he did), I think that is an inaccuracy. It is true that the mother and her influence are dominant in the United States of America. That of course goes hack in history to the drive to the West and the scarcity of women, but here surely the father is still very much the head of the family, and that is relevant to something I want to say in a minute.

Before that, what about the evil men and what they are trying to do? By way of a short preface, I should like to refer to an article published yesterday in The Times by its religious affairs correspondent on the response to the most reverend Primate's " Call to the Nation " of last October. I quote the correspondent: The letters were by no means invariably right wing, although the collective paranoia which believes in a Communist plot to overthrow the constitution of a Christian state by subverting the morals of the young was one recurrent theme. I would submit that the phrase " collective paranoia " in this context is undeserved. It may not be the Communists but somewhere, perhaps among anarchists, there has certainly been a pattern at work, even including phraseology. Those of us who have taken trouble and who have shared the experience of friends—and very few of us have not known of some sort of trouble very near us in this sort of way—have noticed the extraordinary similarity in the way in which attacks upon parents are made. Things generally come right but it is not just a coincidence.

I wonder whether your Lordships remember that three or four years ago there was a most obnoxious document which was called, The Little Red Book. It was published in Denmark and was fairly quickly—and, in my view, quite rightly—suppressed in this country, but it was a book containing detailed instructions to very young school children (not teenagers) on how to break up relationships with their parents. The language was all of incredible viciousness. It told them how to break up relationships with their parents and their teachers and for good measure also how to stimulate each other sexually, and no detail was spared. I think we should be careful before we talk about " collective paranoia ". These things are true. There is, I have no doubt, a concerted attempt being made to drive out the central fact of a united family which, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has just said, is love.

Love, be it noted, is the most deeply significant quality—or so I myself feel—which distinguishes man from the beasts. If anybody were to take me up on that and ask, " What about mother love among the beasts? What about the love of a bitch for her puppies, of a bear for her cubs, or of a lioness for hers?" my answer would be, " Yes, all right; that is a short-lived love, but in that world there is no father love." To make my point here, it is father love rather than mother love to which I would refer. En that concept there lies a very potent weapon in the search for truth. That quality of love is the secret—is it not?—of unselfishness, and it is that that some people want to destroy. I think it is not difficult to see why, at least in some cases. It was on this note of unselfishness that the most reverend Primate dwelt in his message to the nation. He came in there, and at that point it is time for me to sit down.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by apologising to your Lordships and particularly to the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government, in that I may possibly not be able to stay until the very end of the debate. I have no urgent engagement except the necessity to get home, but we have been getting on so well that I am hoping f may be able to stay until the very last word. I think we are all grateful to the most reverend Primate for having introduced this debate today. It has been an extraordinarily uniform debate. There has been very little opinion against what he laid down and there can be no doubt that the united family is the best background that a young person can possibly have for his future life. In its ideal form the child learns his guiding principles from his parents, and here I should like to say that there has been quite a fashion lately for saying that it is wrong to teach children principles, or anything like that. That is absolutely false. When a child is very young he needs his parents' guidance and the parents are shirking their responsibility if they do not give it. Later, when the children have matured, they begin to develop their own ideas, but guidance at the first is absolutely necessary.

Another thing, if he has brothers and sisters it is a very good school for learning to mix with other people. The fact that it is the best start for future life is known to anybody who has had anything to do with teaching. Practically all of the really difficult children in school whom one comes across are children from broken homes. It is quite extraordinary how one can trace these children. It is practically inevitable and it is not surprising. Even animals know to a certain degree when there is a discordant atmosphere in the house. Sometimes it even puts them off their food; and if an animal can sense it, how much more can a child. So that is the reason why a broken home is very bad indeed for a child. During the last few years, however, there has arisen also another fashion and that is to teach children that they must be free and that they should not bother to listen to their parents. Freedom is a word that I think has been more misused than any other. At the moment there is a great fashion for teaching the wrong type of freedom, teaching freedom where it should not exist and not giving it where it should exist. The freedom to do right should certainly always be given, but not the freedom to do wrong. Today some say that there is no such thing as right or wrong, but anybody who is a convinced Christian knows that that is an absolute fallacy. Even if one has no particular conviction one can see that anything that harms the community as a whole must be wrong. The great point is that the very young have not yet learned these things, so they need their parents' guidance. They are in urgent need of it until the time when they have formed their own standards. This guidance comes best and most effectively from their parents. Of course, a child may not always agree with its parents. I remember disagreeing very strongly with my own parents on occasions, but when I grew a little older there were many cases in which I realised that they were right and I was wrong.

Here I should like to mention again what the noble Lord, Lord Auckland. said; that is, that both parents and children can disagree with each other but it need not destroy the unity of the family. Parents can have other influences on their children. They can introduce them to new interests, encourage their progress in whatever career they decide to take up and in all sorts of ways they can enlarge their children's lives by their own experience and their own wisdom. Here I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, in paying a tribute to our mothers. Very few, if any, men have the faintest idea what tremendously hard work it is to be the mother of a family. I certainly have not the faintest idea—I have never been one—but it is terrifically hard work and many mothers carry it out superbly.

There is another point. The memory of a happy childhood can be of great value in after life. It is something that can remain with one throughout one's life and give stability and confidence and happiness. It is a wonderful thing. It is of greater influence on one's life than practically anything else. I should like to make one final point which has been brought out by several other noble Lords; that is, on too early marriage. There are several reasons why I am against this: one is that young people, particularly young girls, should have the opportunity of some years in whatever profession or career they decide to take up before having to take on this laborious task of managing a family. I do not mean too long, but to start at 18 or around that age it is too much to ask of any girl. She will have had no life of her own. At that age one has not learned that there is more than one form of what is commonly known as love. At that age they look upon love as the sexual passion which they may feel for their opposite number. They do not realise that in time that wears off but its place is taken by a far more enduring and real form which is the companionate love which lasts throughout married life. That is something which I do not think the very young are capable of developing and that may account for the number of divorces among the very young. This has been a tremendously constructive debate and once again I thank the most reverend Primate for having introduced it.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, we have been going so rapidly that I very much hope that I will not detain your Lordships for more than five or, at the most, six minutes. I do not want to make a speech so much as to ask two questions to which I do not know the answers. though I know the answers which I think are right. I may be in a minority of one. From some of the speeches during the debate I am inclined to believe that there may be some sympathy for my point of view. The question is whether there is one member of a family who is underprivileged; that is, one who is between conception and birth who has been mentioned once or twice in reference to abortion. It is an extremely important question, and will possibly be a very controversial question so I shall not waste your Lordships' time in saying how enormously I appreciated the way the most reverend Primate introduced an enormous subject in such short time, The only comment I would make on his speech is that I am in two minds about the Minister of the Family. I feel rather like G. K. Chesterton who once said he had a great belief in liberalism; all his life he kept that but as he went on he had less belief in Liberals. Some sort of a Ministry of the Family I can imagine. but I should like to reserve my opinion about the Minister. It is a very interesting suggestion, and one which people should think about.

I should also like to say how much enjoyed the two maiden speeches; an elderly maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, and if I may say so the excellent, perhaps younger man's speech by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I agree with almost everything in each. The question of whether an unborn child is a member of the family I think is more important than whether, if so, it is underprivileged. If it is a member of the family it certainly is. I have here a quotation from a reputable gynaecologist. I will not give any statistics but as I believe that the most reverend Primate has a daughter who is a trained gynaecologist, he himself knows what is true and what is not true about the unborn.

It says: By the end of the third month, the unborn child has become very active. He can now kick his legs, turn his feet, curl and fan his toes, make a fist, move his thumb, bend his wrist, turn his head, squint, frown, open his mouth and press his lips tightly together; thumb-sucking is also noted at this stage, the fingernails appear and he starts to urinate. If that is not a description of family life, I do not know what is. I am a family man only in the sense that I have been a member of a family. I am not the father of a family. But it seems to me that a child at the third month is behaving in a way that anyone who brings up a family—a point which has been ably brought up by everyone—will realise is a difficult proposition to deal with, and needs immense care. It seems that the case that an unborn child is not a member of the family needs defending by those who say it is not. A question was asked earlier in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, about the deaths a infants; if the word " foetus " had been substituted for the word " infant ", then the feeling of the House would have been very different.

I am suggesting that there is an arbitrary distinction between the time when a child is actually visible and when it is not visible. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw an article in the Daily Express some time ago. I will not labour your Lordships with it, but it mentioned a child horn at 26 weeks, and the paper has a rather emotive heading, " Wrapped in love and tinfoil ". But the baby was looked after admirably by the nurses at the hospital, and survived.

In a paper called the Nursing Mirror, on 13th May 1976, there was a less emotive but I think more surprising case of a baby which was delivered at only 22 weeks, who was wrapped in rags and, according to the parents, looked like a rag doll. Both of these children survived. In either case they could have been legally killed, torn to pieces, if they had not managed to get themselves horn. In the case of one baby, it would have had two weeks still to go before the 28 weeks when it " came out of quarantine " so to speak, and in the other case, six weeks and, of course, the child I was mentioning at the third week would have had to go more than that. If that is so, if a foetus is a member of a family, it is under-privileged.

I do not mean that every family at all periods in history has always been perfectly fair. I understand that a Roman father had a right to kill any of his children at any age without giving a reason. We have been more modest. We have only allowed a mother, with the agreement of two doctors, to kill any child up to a certain age before birth; but I think they are both things which this House should continue to think about, as to whether they are right. That is one of the tasks, as well as being deputed, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, to a Select Committee in the House of Commons, which the Ministry for the Family might look into, because this is a very, very important question.

I have already spoken for several minutes. It is almost impossible to give my reasons more clearly than that for thinking that the unborn child is a member of the family. As the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said, we all have our own ideas of what is a family. His was the idea of people round the piano rather than round the television; mine is the idea of four, because I happen to be the fourth member of a family. I am a second child in a family—a father and mother, an elder sister and myself. I remember my immense relief when I was told that there was a fifth member of the family added. I felt that this was delightful, and said to myself, " As soon as she has got legs, I will he able to show her some of the things that my elder sister had not shown me ". I was immensely pleased that this should have happened, but I had not known that she was there before. Now we do know that; we have pictures of what a child in the womb looks like.

Unfortunately, we do not have visual aids in this House but I should like to be able to show to the most reverend Primate a picture by Millet called, "Peasant Family ", showing not a family of four, but a family of three. However, it is obvious that the fourth member of the family is coming. To my mind this picture explains very well what was the old idea of a family. The fact that there is a dog in one corner and two hens another is perhaps a dated French idea of a family. Another picture that comes to my mind (and I cannot remember any particular artist in connection with it) is one of the feast, coming on in two weeks' time, of the Visitation of Mary to Saint Elizabeth, in which—unlike the game of Happy Families which we used to play in my childhood, where there were two females and two males—there are two females, both visible. The point of the picture is that there are also two males, neither of whom is visible. The only reason why that incident has ever become one that affected the history of the world is that the two males who are not visible are, indeed, the point of the whole picture, one being a foetus conceived at a late age, namely, John the Baptist, and the other being the foetus unique even by standards of Christianity or of any uniqueness; the only foetus in history who cannot be described literally, as "Someone Christ died for". That description would apply to any other foetus except Our Lord. That is all I have to say. I am sorry to have taken so long.

5.48 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, the most reverend Primate must realise by now that it is in no formal sense that we have thanked him for raising the important subject of the family. It concerns that part of his call to the nation which is, perhaps, most suitable for discussion in a general legislative assembly. I am sure that by the end of the debate much wisdom will have been expressed and we can only hope that some of it will percolate through to the general public. I count it a particular honour to be speaking in a debate marked by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd. It seems only a little while to me, although it is in fact a matter of 50 years, since I used to see his name announced. as it was in those days on the Union Society announcements in Cambridge, as "Mr. J. S. B. Lloyd of Magdalen College ". Since then it has been his lot the applause of listening senates to command, and we are fortunate that at last it is our senate that benefits by his mature wisdom. We also appreciate very much the maiden speech of the noble Lord. Lord Robertson of Oakridge. He was certainly not ashamed to show his colours. He will always find that your Lordships' House is very generous to all those who speak with sincerity and honesty of their beliefs and their faiths, whatever they may be.

I do not propose to deal with certain urgent problems which tragically concern large numbers of families but which even still we may consider as marginal to the main problems of family life in our country today. There are, for instance, all too many homeless families, and clearly when families are homeless there is no opportunity for them to live a creative and happy family life. There are alarming numbers of families sadly marked by violence within the domestic scene, a subject which has just been highlighted in a recent book. I think at least one radio announcement presented the picture in a slightly false perspective; it actually suggested that it was more dangerous to be at home than it was to be out on the streets at night. But it is bad enough in all conscience, and there could be nothing more opposed to the mutual society, health and comfort that man and wife ought to have of the other, than for the wife to he living in fear and trembling of the return of a drunken and violent husband.

Then there are the one-parent families, the subject of the Finer Committee. presenting their own economic and psychological problems, not to mention the particular difficulties and problems of the immigrant families growing up in an alien culture, sometimes unsympathetic to their way of life. All these deserve special treatment, but if we were to get deeply involved in any of them they would distract our minds from what we might call the general problems of the ordinary family today.

If I digress for a moment to the biological side of family life—and this has been touched on by one previous speaker—one notices that in the life of most mammals the male's share in the family life is but fleeting. Although very short-lived, in bird life there is a sharing of the parental responsibility, which has some points of contact with the life of a human family. But the peculiarity of human family life is that the period during which the young are in need of care is much longer, and long after this particular necessity has passed bonds of affection and mutual care often remain and spread out beyond the parent-child relationship to grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and all the network of family life. One of our problems today is that during the short period when children are very young family life still seems to work moderately well, but the wider interaction beyond the nuclear family is often arrested or non-existent. The cessation of direct responsibility for the children with their adolescence is often accompanied by tension on both sides, sometimes by bitterness, leading at times to rejection of the home environment by the children long before emotional stability has been achieved.

Of course, there are other great problems confronting the family today. The most obvious of all is the increase in the divorce rate. We used to be shocked to hear that one in four of early marriages broke down. We are now in a situation where there is at least one divorce per year for every four marriages of any age, and it may be by now one in three. This does not necessarily mean that one in each of three marriages is destined to failure, as we are still catching up with some of the backlog brought about through the Divorce Reform Act, but the situation is sufficiently alarming to give us all pause for thought. It has been estimated that there are already a million children who are living in one-parent homes, most of which are one-parent homes because of broken marriages.

Another change that has come over family life is brought about by the mobility of the modern population. If one goes to a country village in the Alps, or even to a fairly isolated English village in the country, one will find that a good many of the families have the same name; they are all inter-related, and perhaps the whole population consists of two or three clans. Nowadays, when people move so rapidly, the nuclear family, consisting of a one-storey unit, father, mother and children, becomes the norm and related groups are miles away and rapidly fall out of touch. This is one of the major causes of family breakdown, not marriage breakdown necessarily in the narrower sense of the word; and it is, I believe, incidentally, a major cause of juvenile delinquency. Hardly anybody knows anybody else except in the most casual, superficial way.

Thirdly, there is the housing problem: not only the shortage of houses or the badness of housing, but the fact that houses are built to accommodate one small family unit and it is almost impossible to accommodate an extra member of the family, a grandfather or grandmother, an uncle or an aunt; hence the need for endless old people's homes and other geriatric institutions, and, incidentally, a great absence of useful baby-sitters in the average home, especially when the mothers are working, as they are in so very many cases today.

These being some of the problems, the question then arises, what possible actions by Government could contribute to any alleviation of the situation? It is quite clear that not all the problems are susceptible to Government action anyway, but we must look for those that are. For even if under present economic conditions nothing can be done, we must prepare the ground for times when something more is possible. My principal suggestion is that in all administrative action, either by central or by local government, it should be made clear that the family is thought of as a unit and that action on behalf of an individual member of the family is always regarded as a second best, an extreme step only to be taken in real emergency situations. How could this work out? First, when shelter accommodation is needed, it ought to be regarded as totally wrong for families to be separated. However humble, even primitive, the accommodation to be provided, it ought to be provided in family units. This would be a great visual aid which would show the country that the Government ' believed in family life first and foremost and was not prepared to separate father, mother and children, as though their unity as a family was a matter of incidental or secondary importance.

Secondly, we should continue what is becoming more and more the policy of our social service departments, namely, to provide support for handicapped or retarded members of families in their family setting rather than elsewhere. I have noticed that even excellent residential, schools for subnormal children now sometimes have vacancies because of this new policy. This must be disappointing to those who have planned them so carefully, but I believe that the ultimate objective is a right one: namely, if at all possible, to keep the family together.

Thirdly, in the difficult area of sex education I regard it as of supreme importance that physiological education about sex should be subordinated to instruction about courtship, marriage, and family life—particularly the need for I not expecting the impossible, and for treating difficulties as hurdles to be got over rather than excuses for immediate recourse to the divorce court. I should like the words " sex education " to disappear from our syllabuses, and " family education ", or something of that sort, to take their place. I believe that the isolation of sex education from education for family life to be the most serious fault in much of our sex education.

Of course, what can be done by legislation, or administration, is limited. Much of all this is governed by the climate of opinion, as has already been stated by the noble Baroness. Lady Young, and it is almost impossible to tell exactly who it is that creates this climate. Of one thing we can be quite certain: that is, that the publicity given to film stars, who are popular heroes, and who marry five or six times—sometimes marrying and remarrying the same spouse—does no good at all to the image of stable family life.

I doubt whether we can do anything to affect what I believe to be a fact: namely, that in England children break away from their parents and form up into their young teenage groups at a rather earlier age than they do on the Continent of Europe. I doubt whether many parents now err on the side of too strict a discipline. Such an error is obviously possible, but many young people in their heart of hearts desire some rules, even if only to know what rules there are to break. They do not want to drift on an entirely uncharted sea. How many parents I have heard say, when faced with apparent anti-social and unconstructive behaviour on the part of their children, " What can you do? " I believe that this abandonment of responsibility is a terrible mistake, and that parents must go on trying to do something, however tactfully and skilfully, to influence their growing children.

The most reverend Primate has mentioned the possibility of there being a Minister for family welfare, and this proposal has received a somewhat cold welcome by the House up to this point. I think that perhaps a little information is needed in order that your Lordships may get this matter into perspective. Last December at Oslo there was a conference concerned with family welfare for Ministers from the countries of Western Europe. There were such Ministers present from a number of countries. I do not remember every one of them, but I know they included France, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and several others. Britain had no Minister to send who was charged with this responsibility. One can just imagine the scene in the Cabinet when they looked round to see who they could land with this responsibility. They chose a most excellent Minister, Mrs. Shirley Williams, but her formal qualification was that she was the Minister for Consumer Protection. No doubt families are consumers in a very good way, but the idea that there is something quixotic or eccentric about having such a Minister is quite a false one, and the sooner the Government and the rest of us get that into our minds the better.

Before making this speech I held many discussions with magistrates, teachers, parents and others concerned. All are agreed that there is an urgent need for working together: for parents to support teachers; teachers to support parents; magistrates to support parents; and magistrates to support teachers. There is much too often a kind of division of authority and responsibility, so that whenever anyone tries to exercise any kind of discipline always another authority steps in to undermine it. That, I believe, is almost fatal if we are really going to achieve what we want to achieve.

Of course we have to allow full understanding for the rising generation of their need for experimentation, for freedom of expression. We cannot expect them to think exactly as we do. I f every generation thought exactly as its parents did there would he no progress. But we must nevertheless, on behalf of our community, set certain firm guidelines beyond which it must he clearly understood people must not step without making life very unhappy both for themselves and for others, and we do this believing it to he for the ultimate welfare and happiness of young and old alike.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I must start my few words by apologising most sincerely not only to the most reverend Primate but also to the whole House for not being here during the first part of the debate. I am most apologetic and I hope that the House understands that it is no discourtesy on my part. I had a particularly difficult case in my juvenile court and particularly long-winded barristers, and I could not shut them up however hard I tried. I seem to have got the House with me, which is nice. I gather that I have missed some brilliant speeches; two brilliant maiden speeches, and also other brilliant speeches not only of course from the most reverend Primate but also from my noble friend Lady Young. I understand that her speech was a particularly brilliant contribution.

I now find myself, not for the first time, following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester; and again, not for the first time, he has taken every word out of my mouth that I had intended to say. As I have only been in this House for a short time this afternoon I am going to confine myself to one particular aspect, which I have not heard touched upon since I have been able to he here. I think that we have recently been slipping into two-tier families. I think we should go back to three-tier families. I say this because the immigrant families with which I have to deal, either in court or in other capacities, seem to live much happier lives, and one of my reasons for thinking this is because they are three-tier families.

The grandparents in our society today think that they are not wanted by either their own children or by the adolescents in our society. I think that this is absolutely wrong and that it is wrong thinking on their part, and I should like to make a point of trying to instil into them the fact that the adolescents in our families now desperately need the older person, the third tier. So often they quarrel with the second tier in their own families. So often the second tier opt out and do not want to know. The grandparents, the third tier, on the other hand, have a special involvement with the adolescents. I know from personal experience that grandparents are not afraid to speak up; they are not afraid to say, " You must not do this " or " You should do that ". Grandparents have a special place of respect with adolescents. Perhaps communication has broken down between the first and second tier, and noble Lords will be aware that there are many reasons for such a lack of com-munication.

As I say, I speak from experience, including experience of hospital work. It does not take much imagination to realise that the third tier, the older members of the family, may have greater wisdom to impart to the younger members of the family. I recall that when my very precious daughter became engaged it was not my approbation or that of her father's whom she sought. She approached her grandmother and because she decided that the young man whom my daughter wished to marry was right for her, she went ahead without any fear of the future, and how right she was. Communication is difficult because, as one noble Lord said, grandparents are sometimes not able to be in the family home. I do not believe that they should he, but there is a wealth of experience to be gained from contact between the first and third tiers especially if the grandparents can be made to feel that they are deeply needed to help bring up the first tier. I have delayed your Lordships for a few minutes because I felt that I could speak from experience, including experience of broken homes, and in my view the third tier, the grandparents, are perhaps more important in those circumstances than they arc in happy family homes. This is a small hut vital aspect of the subject under debate and I hope that I have not bored your Lordships unduly.


My Lords, may I, on behalf of the House, recommend the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, to read twice every word of the postscript to the most reverend Primate's introduction to the debate in which he put, I think even better than she did, exactly the case she made?

6.14 p.m.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, I too congratulate the two noble Lords on their excellent maiden speeches. I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating this debate and for his invitation to me to speak. This subject is so vast and human that when I was trying to tackle it I thought that the only way for me to proceed was to give your Lordships some of the personal experiences with which I have been involved. In a society which is fast becoming impersonalised and selfish, I hear so many cries for help that I hope that this debate will help to kindle in some hearts an urge to want to help others and not only themselves.

Our society has so many problems that without a concerted effort of help coming from all sections now we will become an even more sterile society. I hope that the leadership of the most reverend Primate today will penetrate out into the furthest corners of our country. The churches need to speak out before it is too late. Our Lord died that we might live, but I know some people who are not living their lives today; they are existing, surviving their lonely lost days under the cover of alcohol or valium. They often become the prey of one of the non-Christian religious sects which seem to be springing up and getting stronger. When a mother becomes an alcoholic her children suffer because of the insecurity of not knowing what she will do next. They stop bringing their friends home because of the intense embarrassment she causes them. They do not know how to explain their predicament. As soon as they can, these young people leave home and can he swallowed up by a wicked underworld. They are at risk and often they themselves go off the rails. In our huge schools in which children never have their own lockers in which to put their books or coats, how can these human problems be known? In the big downtown schools where the staff often changes, what hope have these children? The large impersonal housing estates without local shops and pubs have bred groups of people without any community ties. If you have no roots you have no duty to each other.

It seems that we have bred a generation of young people who consider it their right to take revenge on society. For I5 years I have been attached to a borstal and have met hundreds of young people. I can tell your Lordships from first-hand experience that many of the boys come from families in which there is serious illness and death. If the pressures are too great, their only outlet seems to be crime. A few years ago it was unusual to have more than one or two 15 year olds. Now one third of the boys at my borstal are schoolboys. When the boys come to borstal they come in contact with people who can help them and they begin to show promise, but all too soon they are thrown back into the same unsatisfactory society without a job and with the stigma of borstal. When I have had boys at home to share a meal and some family life our relationship is quite different from the institutional " miss " they call me when in borstal. These boys have a great respectability; if their home is broken and the mother has a lover, he is always the uncle. In some areas foster care schemes have started with various problem cases. This is a hopeful sign and I hope that it will blossom and prosper.

To break the cycle of deprivation which is passed on from one generation to the next, an example other than the usual one must be attained. Many families are suddenly thrown into complete confusion when a severe accident with lasting disability happens. It has been proved that, when possible, if the disabled person can remain in the family, he or she lives longer and happier than in an institution, and even if there is considerable help in the form of community services coming into the home, that is cheaper.

Often it takes more thought and more planning to do this and the big question is who is going to do it, the Health Department, the social services or perhaps the Department of the Environment. Instead of getting together in a united team, which seems to be the best way, still some authorities try to pass the buck. I note today that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has only his secretary in the box; perhaps the reason is that the Government have realised that if there are Government Departments here they will only pass the buck. The noble Lord has to shoulder the whole responsibility of this debate alone.

My Lords, over the years I have had too many struggles for help on behalf of disabled people and their families. I should like to mention a case so that your Lordships can understand what I am talking about. It was brought to my notice that a mentally handicapped child was being very anti-social and the community was at risk. He had been throwing bricks into prams and screaming, among other things. I contacted the social services department of one of the London boroughs where the family lived. Some time later I got a desperate letter from the mother who had a deaf unem-ployed husband and another mentally handicapped child living at home, and a third child, the eldest, also mentally handicapped, was in care after he had tried to gas her. The letter told me that the council had put a six foot fence around her house. She said that she was now a complete prisoner within a hopeless situation. The boy, who had just reached puberty, then broke up all the furniture. She and her only daughter could not stand the situation. She told me that she was at breaking point. It was not until I contacted the DHSS and the Director of Social Services himself that at long last the boy was taken into care. At the weekend, the mother visited the hostel to see her son and the warden told her that he had wrecked most of the furniture there, and he asked the mother, " How did you cope? ".

We need more day centres and more acceptable places for the different groups of people with handicaps and disability who cannot manage to live at home and whose home cannot cope. I have met some wonderful families who love and care for their handicapped relations. They will never have peace of mind unless they know that facilities are available when they are no more. Recently I visited a hospital for the mentally ill. I was devastated when I saw the endless, impersonal white wards which were clinic-ally clean—with empty lockers and not even a mat on the floor by the bed. I know that the Health Service is short of money, but this type of thing is totally inhuman. When I asked why there were no personal belongings in the lockers, I was told, " They might be stolen." Many people enter the hospital with depression. After visiting the patient the whole family most likely suffers from depression because this is a traumatic experience. It was because of a complaint from a relative about the conditions that our community health councillor visited this hospital. Section 17 of the Chronic-ally Sick and Disabled Persons Act—"Separation of younger from older pati-ents "—was not being followed. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Act of 1970 is supposed to cover mental hospitals.

One hears the saying, " small is beauti-ful ". After visiting that human factory of numbers I now understand that saying. Just as I was leaving a young woman rushed out calling my name. People need people and they need personal friendship as human beings. I am sure that encouragement should be given for friendship groups to be attached to such huge places if they have to exist, to help the families to feel that they are not alone and that the patients will not be swallowed up by a soulless nothingness. Troubles shared are troubles halved.

My Lords, I live in a district in York-shire which is surrounded by Army camps. I have noticed the pressures on the wives of soldiers. The husbands are constantly away for long periods—so often in Northern Ireland—and young wives are far from mum. There have been several cases of baby abuse. Should young people being recruited for the Army not be warned about these difficulties and pressures if they intend to marry? I believe that the break up of the family in the Army is becoming an increasing problem.

I must end by asking the most reverend Primate: is it not so that these families that pray together are more likely to stay together? Being disabled I should like to tell the most reverend Primate that there are still many churches throughout Britain which have no access for wheelchairs. One church I occasionally go to with my husband is accessible to me only when we go to a funeral when the ramp is down for the coffin. When I look nowadays at so many of my contemporaries whose marriages have failed and the shattering blows which tear the children to pieces, I believe that our marriage is a very precious thing. Our religious faiths are different, but our Lord and the Ten Commandments are the same. My Lords, I hope that more people will follow them.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a privilege to speak in a debate in which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, has taken part, and certainly I was moved—and I believe ail of your Lordships were greatly moved—by what she said. I have no experience to enable me to enter into the areas of which she spoke, except where she spoke of the family praying together and staying together. Perhaps I might otherwise begin by echoing what the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said about raising a song and a hymn to our mums. I do this just as I am approaching the fortieth anniversary of my wedding, and I cannot thank my own mother nor my own wife enough for things which have been done to keep me out of trouble all these years.

We are all greatly in the debt of the most reverend Primate for the choice of his subject and for the manner in which he introduced it. If this is not the word of a great Christian leader, full of the Spirit, I do not know what is. It behoves us all to greet and to salute today's two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd—dour, with his Celtic flavour, and his commanding, compelling concern for the helpless—and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge— fluent, with his evidence of sincere and prayerful commitment.

The proposal of the most reverend Primate for a Minister of the Family has not had quite the fair wind this afternoon that one might have hoped. It might be well to suggest that, although he put it in the shape of a proposal for a Minister with care for the family, it might perhaps be considered in a rather wider context to see whether there should be a freelance Minister, like the erstwhile Ministers for brains (and successive regimes have had them to little advantage); whether he should be a Minister in some subordinate capacity; or whether the matter should involve a separate Department. These points need to be considered. It might make the study of the matter more useful if one also threw into the pot the idea of a type of standing commission, not of Ministerial responsibility in the Cabinet, but perhaps more on the lines of the Scarman Commission on the Law. What is absolutely certain is that the idea put forward by the right reverend Primate is surely rooted in several unassailable facts. There are four Ministries concerned. Wherever there are four Ministries, vertically parallel in their authority and independence, there is likely to be the lack of lateral communication, and surely one thing is absolutely certain and has run through the whole of this debate so far, and through all the pleas for the amelioration of this or that service or lack of it; it is the requirement for a consistency of standards, including moral standards.

My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his gracious and elegant speech following the most reverend Primate, skilfully avoided any mention of morals as the basis of the family, it merely recalled a succession of evasions which one has seen in Government after Government and Minister after Minister. Governments invariably en-deavour to deny that there is any State, let alone governmental, responsibility with regard to moral issues at all. We are fobbed off with tales about public taste, what the public will bear and what the public will stand for. Yet all that flies in the face of fact. This very Government have legislated against open expressions of racialist opinion. This Government for ever appeal to the notion of social justice. The State extols courage in the Armed Forces and rewards with medals those that excel in it. The State demands integrity in the public service. The State requires honesty with regard to tax obligations. To say that the State and the Government have no interest in moral standards is simply a contradiction of the facts of life.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, has already invited the Government to re-affirm the most solemn pledge which was involved in the British voice among the overwhelming majority that voted for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It is true, and it is perhaps worth recalling, that, a matter of weeks after that vote, the Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, told Parliament —and the reference is to Commons Hansard of 14th January, 1949, cols. 16 to 18: The Government subscribe generally to the ideal enshrined in this Declaration … and will continue to work towards it ". The Government have been asked to reaffirm that Declaration, and I support the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, in his pressure for that. I believe that that is not a very exacting requirement, and I look forward with confidence to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, meeting us in that regard.

But I should like to ask the Government a further question, and that is whether the Government will recognise that there is an obligation which overrides all that; something that overrides the context in which any Prime Minister takes office and forms a Cabinet at the hands of Her Majesty. That is done in the light of Her Majesty's anointing, consecration and coronation as Head of State after she has taken a series of oaths. If those oaths are binding on Her Majesty, I submit that they are binding on her Governments. One of the oaths to which I should like to draw attention is this one. She swears: To maintain the laws of God and the profession of the Gospel ". My Lords, it is difficult to find anything more categorical than that, and I repeat it. She swears at her Coronation: To maintain the laws of God and the profession of the Gospel ". Now, whatever else may be comprehended in that, certainly Christian marri- age can by no conceivable argument be thought to be excluded. Its protection and its defence are mandatory. It is in the context of that oath that Governments take office. So no matter what Governments take office, no matter what their ideas may be, no matter how Governments are composed, surely they will admit that they take office within the context of that oath and therefore in support of it. It is an oath solemnly given and solemnly subscribed by the Queen, at the instance, ultimately, of the State. It is binding, it is mandatory, it is categorical; and I ask the Government to affirm that that is so.

I ask this question, my Lords, because although among politicians the esteem of religion is profitable the principles are troublesome. We are all against sin hut, with a punctuality to make the clock blush, Ministers take issue when challenged on particulars, and I should like to quote one or two examples which go back to a debate on sex education in schools which we had in this House on the 14th January of this year. The question was put to the Government: " Do the Government think that sex education in schools must be related to right and wrong?" That was the question. The answer was in these terms—and I quote precisely: I do not know that it has ever been considered in [that] way …". That is in column 156 of that debate. We were told—and I quote the words: Health behaviour is covered in depth in an integrated way ". That is column 255. The question was put: Does … it … mean that children are taught that things are right and that things are wrong …? The answer was: I cannot give … a precise ' Yes ' or ' No ' … because … how … things are taught differs in different schools ". My Lords, in later correspondence with the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Gerald Fowler—


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? Is he getting at me? If so, will he please say so?


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. The first quotation, of course, did relate to the noble Lord, and I warned him the other day that I was going to refer to it. The next came from the noble Lord who wound up the debate and is no longer in that office. Now I am going to come to Mr. Gerald Fowler's correspondence which followed that debate. I have the correspondence here, and if the noble Lord wants to see it he is welcome to do so. I made the one reference to the noble Lord opposite and I did not want to embarrass him unduly by identification because when I asked him the question originally it was a fast ball, as I said at the time.

In the subsequent correspondence the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Gerald Fowler, retreated further to hide behind the morally neutral adjective " responsible ". The school approach to sex education was of course responsible. But how the word " responsible " would he interpreted, he said, would be influenced by the attitudes of those concerned. I put it in correspondence to the Minister of State—not the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, because we know his heart is in the right place; he knows that we know it, and we all know—in this way, and I put it to your Lordships in this way: In the Christian tradition and in the civilisa-tion of Western Europe that we have inherited, the sanctity of marriage is fundamental and this involves an absolute distinction between right and wrong. The answer: I fear that we are not going to reach a common understanding on this issue ". In the same correspondence I asked for an assurance about holding up, about supporting, the distinction between right and wrong. Ah!—the Minister was far too clever here. He stood my question on its head and said: It would not he appropriate for the Government to attempt to lay down absolute moral standards ". What about courage in the Army? What about integrity in the public service? What about honesty in paying taxes and the rest? Moral standards are laid down and are required by the Government, but not when it is inconvenient.

My Lords, may I just say that I put roughly the same point to a previous Minister of State at the Home Office, when the Tories were in office. I put this question: Do the Government accept any overriding obligation to watch over the interests of, and to protect, family life generally—' Yes ' or ' No '? The answer: It would he quite wrong for me to try to give a simple answer ' Yes ' or No My Lords, this just will not do. It flies in the face of our subscription to the Declaration of Human Rights. It simply blasphemes the Coronation oath that, I repeat, is the context of all authority delegated by Her Majesty to whatever Government are in office. We have almost reached the point— thanks to the nebulous line the Government take on moral issues—where virtue is driven underground and the decencies of life are practised by consenting adults in private.

If there is one purpose more than another in this debate, I believe that it is to persuade the Government to have regard to the principle, set out by Adam Smith originally, that bad money drives out good. With regard to the media and their influence upon our manners and morals, nothing succeeds like excess. We need to persuade the Government that we face not a crisis but a chronic malady. We need to persuade them that the hour for Western civilisation is late; we need to persuade them that the hour for the family is very late. We need to persuade them that the current chaotic whirligig of chaotic expedients is not enough.

Above all, we urge the Government seriously to look at the idea expressed in the speech of the most reverend Primate, and his call for a Minister of the Family or of Family Welfare (or, as I would put it, a Standing Commission on that subject). In asking the Government to look at that seriously, I urge them to remember, in a time of stringent economy, that truth is not to be economised in like everything else.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I wish I could say that it gives me pleasure to follow the noble Earl, for whom I have respect and affection, but I think that his bullying questions: " Are you a good man?" and " Are you a bad man?"—


My Lords, I am a bad man.


My Lords, I agree. Therefore, in a way, this has been a very raw intervention in what has been a really interesting debate. I am truly grateful to the most reverend Primate for his debate on the continuing importance of the family and especially in the changing circumstances of Britain today.

First, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, on his maiden speech and I hope to hear him often; and I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, for not having been in the Chamber to hear his speech because I was rewriting my own speech and scratching out the points already made by the most reverend Primate —and others, I may add—for I did not want to repeat everything that had been said. The Family—in capitals—for myself, long may it continue! I remember a debate in this House some time ago when the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, said with regard to the family that marriage was a contract. In the first instance some of us may not have read the small print! and a good second marriage can make for a good family.

My Lords, what the most reverend Primate brought out so clearly was that the continuance of the family involved the whole fabric of our economic and social life. At a time of rapid technological change in a crowded island this fabric becomes worn and tattered in times of stress. Young people at the beginning of the century inherited ideas from the Victorians built upon ignorance and evasion about the nature of the human personality. Our parents and grandparents seemed to need the protection of an armour-plated self-deception to cope with the harsh realities of life. So, whatever we may feel about the changes in moral ideas, I find a more honest approach welcome; and I recommend this to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale.

My Lords, two great recent revolutionary changes have greatly affected the style of the family— mostly for the better. One is the great strides towards equality for women. It should be emphasised that this was made possible by progress in safe and efficient birth control. Without this change it could never have happened; and if this stops it will not go on.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, what the noble Baroness says, on the face of it, is unlikely to be true; but can she explain why she thinks it is true?


My Lords, I do not regard that as an interruption to be answered at this point. I will talk to the noble Earl after the debate and explain it. If the noble Earl really thinks that those women with as many as eight, nine, ten, eleven or even twelve children can also work (which is required of them) and can also earn money (which is required of them) and can look after all those children in poverty, he really does not know what I am talking about.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I do not, actually.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord interrupted my flow of ideas. Birth control has released women from the bondage and hardship of large families which their husbands could not properly support. The ensuing poverty and hardship fell mainly on the women. I wish to underline the fact that birth control has been of paramount benefit to family life. In this day and age, women have a chance to be more free, less child-hound to the home, able to enjoy the family and to be less solitary altogether. Whatever the interim difficulties in social adjustments, do not let us under-rate the increased happiness and fulfilment that women's liberation has brought.

I know that there are sad aspects—especially where there are children and the family is fragmented when there is divorce—but the truth is that family break-up is a fact of life for all sorts of reasons, both personal and social. For the poor people there is much that we can do—for instance, in the case of the one-parent family—to organise trained child minders, nursery schools and play groups. All these could be obtained in less time than it would take to build houses—although, as everyone has said, housing is so important for the continuance of family life. So long as we have a system of benefits which are given through the tax system only those families who pay tax, the better-off families, will benefit. The poorer families will lose out. As for the one-parent families and the raw deal that they receive, I cannot help feeling that it is somehow due to an old-fashioned punishing attitude towards them.

I believe that the most reverend Primate called for marriage education; and I believe that I heard him alright. When I think of the debate that we had on sex education for children which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. I think it was a very poor curtain raiser for this interesting substantial and serious debate. Surely if we want to give young people guidance in marriage it should be given with sex education for the young. Yet, as I say, in the debate in this House there was a great attack on sex education in schools, and on the Family Planning Association, judging it to be damaging to the family itself. It is just the opposite: it helps the family; it has always helped the family, and I know it will go on helping the family.

For my part, I believe that education and understanding are necessary for maintaining a good family relationship. There has to be frank communication and trust between the parents, children, husbands and wives. Ignorance, shame and guilt destroy this. I will give a very brief quotation from the latest information pamphlet sent to me by the Family Planning Association. I think this will interest the most reverend Primate. It is very short. It reads: Sex education is really moral education and is the responsibility of religious education ". May I thank the most reverend Primate again for initiating this debate; and may I also congratulate him on his statement condemning racial violence, which is especially important when it comes from the Church.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy that the most reverend Primate should have raised this debate on family problems at this time. In recent years we have debated some specific problems touching on the family, but never before the family as the central subject of debate. My collateral ancestor, William of Corbeil, was Archbishop of Canterbury and consecrated Canterbury Cathedral in 1130. A dedication so famous "— wrote a chronicler— was never heard of on earth since the dedication of the Temple of Solomon. I mention this because the most reverend Primate has recently appealed for funds for the restoration of Canterbury Cathedral. It is not just a public monument; its builders conceived it as a national shrine for family worship. I am sure that he will agree that family worship is the best centre for family unity. I am sure, my Lords, we all wish him every success.

I said when I spoke on the Divorce Bill in 1967 that for Christians the true portrait and ideal of family life is set before us in the Holy Family at Nazareth—Jesus, Mary, Joseph. This is an ideal that is central to the Christian faith. My attention was drawn the other day to the Church Times, which reported an admirable sermon by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester which called attention to the role in the life of Christians, of Mary as a wife and mother. In our present-day life, I think families are under great stress, when one thinks of pornography, obscenity and indeed other things which are a contradiction of decent family life. We need to judge things by Mary's standards.

It is now nearly two years since the Finer Report, the Report of the Committee on One-Parent Families, was published. This is a noble report which reflects great credit on all those who were concerned with preparing it. It covers an enormous range. It is concerned with some 620,000 families, of whom 520,000 were fatherless, and the rest motherless. In the case of the fatherless, 190,000 mothers were separated, 120,000 divorced, 120,000 widowed and only 90,000 single. Together these families form no less than 10 per cent. of the whole: one family in every 10 one sees walking down the streets. We have never yet found time to discuss this report, and this is more than a pity; we need to settle down to discuss it in detail.

Mr. Jonathan Bradshaw of York University, and others, are doing valuable research into this and related problems. There are also grave problems for families where there are handicapped children, and where one parent or the other is handicapped. We live, it is true, in difficult economic circumstances, even if there may seem to he some rays of light on the horizon. We live also with a fund of practical knowledge that our forebears did not possess. We still have to learn to divide the food at what Pope John called, in a striking phrase, " The banquet of life ". Today, we are far too inclined to look upon the Welfare State as an uncle whose pockets are stuffed endlessly with pound notes. Everyone on both sides of this House is all too painfully aware that the pound notes at the disposal of the " uncle government " are limited.

Often it seems to me that the Welfare State has snapped family initiative. People are all too ready to expect and demand Government assistance. I am told that a recent statistic showed that one spouse in each four of all existing marriages has been previously married, and that this is increasing rapidly through divorce and remarriage. I regret that I have no figure for the number of children involved, nor how this puts stress on the family.

Many of these are not questions which can be resolved by Government action but it is right that they should be raised in this House and discussed here, if only because it is part of our function to give some lead to the nation in thought and in action. It is not so much instruction in human biology that is needed in schools, as if biology could answer moral problems; it is instruction in marriage itself in all the duties and responsibilities of both motherhood and fatherhood that is so sorely needed. It is true that serious efforts are being made in many places and by devoted individuals, but much more co-ordination is needed. I very much regret the Government's decision (I think it was the week before last) to scrap their plan for the re-organisation of child benefits. Mothers were to have received not only the child's allowance for the first time for all the children, not just the second and successive issue, but also the child tax allowance.

As the most reverend Primate has already said, the Trades Union Congress were in agreement with the Government's proposed benefits scheme and understood its importance in family life. Therefore I am all the more sorry that the Government are cancelling the original proposal. I can understand that there are difficulties, hut I should have thought that this was an occasion when the difficulties of wives outweighed those of explaining the plan to husbands. I cannot see that it would do any harm for there to be a little plain speaking from the Government. I am sure that the Government are strong enough not even to be bruised by any criticism in the matter. I hope that the Government will watch this because I believe that it will probably have the effect of pressurising mothers of young children to go out to work when otherwise they would stay at home to take care of their own children, particularly those below school age in circumstances where there are no pre-school facilities. I hope that I may ask the noble Lord who is to reply to agree to keep a close eye on this. This is a sphere where the Government can help reduce family tensions.

We now know of human life on this earth of 3½ million years. Even the earliest finds on the river Awash in Eithiopia show that man had already some concept of the family in that he exercised care in the burial of his dead. He thus showed some sense of the dignity of his brothers. Our earliest human records of 5,000 years ago already show a developed institution of family life. If in our present age we fail or neglect to pass on the lessons of past experience to the young in the matter of family, we shall only lead them to catastrophe. Never before in human history has man been capable of utterly destroying human life by the misuse of atomic science. Unless we resolve to live together constructively as a whole human family, we know only too well the fate that can overtake our race here on earth.

7 p.m.


My Lords, my remarks will be directed to one important aspect of this important subject which has already been mentioned, that is the sex aspect of family life, and in this I will be following to some extent in the steps of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. Like other speakers, I often think when reflecting on social conditions when I was a boy, some 40 years ago, that there have been many changes for the worse. The most reverend Primate has told us that we must not hark back; I am sure he is quite right, and I do not propose to do so. But there are many fields where the reverse is true. One of these, in my opinion, is the attitude to sex. By this I do not mean the encouragement of pornography, which I believe to be wholly bad. Our treatment of it compares most unfavourably with how it is treated in some other countries. In this I go along with a number of previous speakers this afternoon. I am referring to the improvement in sex education. There are no more of the mysteries, the confusion and sometimes the deliberate lies with which my generation was faced and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has referred. These could so often do untold harm to people of sensitivity. Instead, sex is generally discussed as a perfectly normal and natural function of the body, and as something which can bring great happiness if it is not abused. Equally, it can bring misery if its is not properly understood.

One of the organisations which plays an increasing role in sex education is the Family Planning Association, of which I have the honour to be a vice-president. The position, although honorary, is one which I nevertheless regard as a great privilege to hold. As there may have been some misunderstanding about the part played by the Association in sex education, and as it has recently been the subject of attacks in your Lordships' House—attacks totally without justification—I should like to say something to put the record straight.

It seems to me difficult to think of any organisation which has done more to support and to stress the importance of the family in the changing circumstances of Britain today than has the Family Planning Association. Just consider for a moment, my Lords, the objects of the Association. The first is to preserve and protect the good health, both mental and physical, of parents, young people and children, and to prevent the poverty, hardship and distress caused by unwanted conception. The second is to educate the public in the field of procreation, contraception and health, with particular reference to personal responsibility in sexual relationships and to the consequences of population growth. The third objective is to give medical advice and assistance in cases of involuntary sterility or in difficulties connected with marriage relationships or sexual problems for which medical advice or treatment is inappro- priate. What could be more helpful to the family than these general principles?

Of course, the Association believes in preventing unwanted pregnancies, which are estimated at the present time to be running at 200,000 a year, because that in itself so often puts strains on the family, causing hardship and distress, not least to any children who may be concerned. But the Association is not concerned solely with preventing pregnancies. They also advise in cases of involuntary sterility; as one who was married for eight years before a child was conceived, I know just how important that function can be.

The main criticism levelled against the Family Planning Association concerns their role in education. It is suggested that sex education is either the function of parents alone or it is a natural process that does not have to be taught. But many parents either refuse to undertake the task or, if they do undertake it, they do so inadequately or badly. If people are left to find out for themselves, many will do so but they may well be hurt in the process and their marriages may be less happy than they otherwise might have been. Moreover, there is always the minority who may not find out at all. I am sure we all know a number of people who have entered upon matrimony without knowing the basic facts of life.

The other principal charge brought against the Association is that their sex education increases promiscuity and encourages the young to indulge in sexual relationships, if only as a matter of experiment. I do not believe that to be true. It is not sex education which encourages such behaviour: rather it is the endless exploitation of the sexual theme on television, in books, magazines and the cinema which must take the blame. Perhaps it is we in Parliament who should take part of the blame; but sex education, if it is carried out responsibly, as it is by the Family Planning Association, can and does mitigate the evil effects of this exploitation.

The Association is staffed by thousands of dedicated doctors and laymen, many of whom work for little or no reward. They have relieved much individual suffering and anxiety, and have brought comfort and relief to thousands of families up and down the land. In this debate about the importance of the family, for which we are so indebted to the most reverend Primate, I think it is right that a tribute should he paid to the magnificent and selfless work which this organisation has performed in the past and which it continues to undertake now, when so much of its original function has been absorbed into the National Health Service.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, might I ask him whether he is aware that in the guidelines for sex education produced by the Family Planning Association in 1974, the subject of marriage is barely mentioned?


My Lords, all I can say in answer to the noble Lord is that the Family Planning Association support marriage and the family, and this is certainly one of the matters which they take into account and on which they give guidance in the educational field.

7.8 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, in addressing your Lordships this evening I should, like everybody else, like to thank the most reverend Primate for introducing the subject and giving us the benefit of his thoughts on it, together with an opportunity to express our own. in what has been a most interesting debate. If I may select one speech I was particularly pleased by, it was the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Robertson. I knew and admired his father. and it was a great pleasure to hear him acquitting himself so well before your Lordships' House today. It was most agreeable in content and I found the views he expressed reflected my own most precisely. The speech was fully in conformity with the tradition of your Lordships' House as to how a maiden speech should be delivered.

I should like to take up the thread of the argument at the point where the most reverend Primate left it: namely, the function of the grandparents. This links with what the noble Baroness. Lady Macleod, was saying. She is not now in her place, but I am sure she will read Hansard tomorrow. I entirely agree with what she said about the three-tier family. It also links with the lance which was tilted by. I think, the noble Lord, Lord Glendevon, against those who misuse the phrase " nuclear family ". Of course, a family consists of a set of households acknowledging consanguinity and linked by a communications system of some kind or another. To call the family " nuclear " within the scope of the household may make good sense, but it does not account for the family, which concerns a much wider group of relationships.

I am currently going through the phase where, as the senior member of my surviving branch of what was at one time a more extended set of relationships which have now made their transition into time past, it is my responsibility to try to hold it together in what remains of' my own period as the senior member. So I begin with my efforts—and they are seen by everybody to be efforts—to hold together the second cousins in parallel groups, reminding them of their common ancestry from somebody I knew—that is, their common great-grandmother, my grandmother—of whose personality and qualities they probably have only very vague childhood recollections. It is my task, my very pleasant duty, to tell my grandchildren what my mother was like. Of course, I knew my grandmother and my great-grandmother, who lived on into my adult years, and l made her a great-great-grandmother before she finally died, but it is a very exceptional state of affairs to have five generations of a family in existence at once. So much for the second cousins, who see that I am taking trouble over this and it has convinced them that it is something worth taking trouble over.

Then I come to the first cousins—that is, my own grandchildren—and I will take the case of two daughters who have suffered the type of dispersion about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester spoke. One of them married an officer in Her Majesty's Forces and has for some time been successively in Western Germany, then in Hong Kong and he now has a couple of years to do in Ottawa. If I had allowed it to happen, this would have meant the disruption of connections between myself and my grandchildren on the one hand, and between themselves and their first cousins in England by my other daughter. on the other hand.

But just as General Booth defended the rousing martial qualities of " Onward Christian Soldiers ", by asking " Why should the devil have all the good tunes'? ", I thought to myself: why should the devil have all the media of telecommunications placed at his disposal by the BBC, the ITA and so on? Why should I not have my own system of telecommunications? So through their own efforts, or my efforts, or our joint efforts I saw that there were three centres of telecommunications in this dispersed little family, in the form of portable tape recorders. You can talk to your absent grandchildren for 60 minutes on one 40p speech quality tape, and we circulate these tapes around the family and are continually in touch with one another.

They arc much more human documents than a letter. Children like recording their own voices and hearing them played back. The last tape that my grandson sent asked, " Will you please do Albert and the Lion, like you did at Christmas?" His father was then over here on leave. So in my best Lancashire dialect I did Albert and the Lion for a grandchild, for whom I am still a reality. Some of them are charming family records. I have the whole development, both meteorological and familial, of Typhoon " Elsie " in the Pacific last year. All the broadcast meteorological reports were filtered through on to the tape, with comments from my daughter and son-in-law on the precautions they were taking in battening down the hatches. As the wind reached a speed of 139 mph, and I could hear the wind whistling around the house, there was a charming intervention by my grandson when it was announced that the eye of the typhoon was only five miles away. He said. " I can see the eye of the typhoon and it is winking at me." What a charming record to pass down in family history.

These tapes circulated all around the family and by taking some trouble we are held together, so that when they come over on leave and my grandson, who is not quite so strong on Greek verbs as I was at his age, but is much stronger on dinosaurs, asks me to take him to the Natural History Musuem, we go trotting around together as friends, in complete trust and confidence, and the family has been held together by effort. I am not blowing my own trumpet. What I am trying to say is that I am inculcating in the young the fact that this is something worth putting effort into. One of these days, this will become part of a cultural tradition and they will put effort into it, and the problem of keeping a family going under modern conditions will have been solved for one family.

Your Lordships may well ask: " Is this not all élitist and remote from people with difficult housing problems? " No, my Lords. In terms of Christian ideology I do not think it is, because if you have tackled and solved a problem yourself, you become acutely aware that it is only one kind of problem and that you have a duty to help other people solve theirs. I am much more interested now in getting decent housing conditions as a means of holding a family together. Before I had to make any efforts to do it myself, it all seemed to be happening naturally without any effort at all. That is only a small contribution to thought in this field.

I fully agree with everything that has been said about the undesirable character of what is involved in flooding us out with pornography, obscenity and incest. Every culture in the world has a taboo on incest. On what good ground, psychological or otherwise, do we want to lift that taboo? It has frequently been argued how it was generated, what its function is. Never mind about that, my Lords. It is there, so leave it there for the time being.

I should like to make one last comment on the question of a Minister. I do not think that this subject is ready for a Ministry, and if you have a Minister within one of the Ministries you have to assign a Ministry to him. This is difficult, because the problems will tend to be inter-departmental and will be shirked. I should like to put into the mind of the most reverend Primate the thought that, instead of going for a Minister, a Parliamentary Secretary should be attached to a senior Cabinet Minister without departmental responsibilities—somebody like the Lord Privy Seal or the Lord President of the Council. That is the way science was looked after at one time after the war, and it was looked after better in that way than by almost any other method.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for the fact that my name is not on the list of speakers, and I crave your Lordship's indulgence for a few moments. In paying tribute to the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate, may I give support to the consideration of a Minister for the Family or, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has said, of some alternative? At the moment, there is no pressure group for the family as a whole. The elderly have age Concern and Help the Aged. Your Lordships have had evidence of that this afternoon in an outstanding maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, supporting the elderly. The disabled have a Minister and the mentally ill and the handicapped have MIND. There is, of course, a large number of voluntary and religious organisations giving a service to one or other aspect of the family, but there is overlapping in the work of the different Departments, both central and local, and a Minister could perhaps co-ordinate such work leading to less expenditure and greater effectiveness. A Minister could, perhaps, co-ordinate the work of voluntary and statutory agencies.

It is impossible to draw attention to all the needs of the family, so may I confine myself to three brief points? First, there are the needs of the family with children under the age of five. It is agreed by most parents, and confirmed by research, that the foundation of a positive and satisfying inner life is laid in a child's early years. It is then that the process of maturing and the ability to form relationships is begun. May I ask the Minister to say, in his reply at the end of the debate, whether in each local authority a survey could be carried out to assess the needs of families with children under the age of five, particularly the 20 per cent. Of working mothers with young children, to make recommendations to meet those needs and show how resources could be co-ordinated and positively used. Such resources include the pre-schools play groups, nursery schools, day nurseries an excellent day centres.

May I drew the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to the new and very good day centers run by Dr. Barn-ardo's for handicapped children? Also may I speak of the very great importance of a service which the community provides for itself—the child-minding service? The surveys carried out by the National Educational Development Trust and the National Children's Bureaux show that the child-minding service is not being constructively used for the care of young children, and opportunities are being lost to make known sound practices and principles in child care.

The Minister will perhaps agree that the survey called for by his Department in 1970 regarding the needs of the disabled went some way towards assessing needs and producing a more positive policy. Then, on a quite different aspect in his maiden speech the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, drew attention to the missing generation of grandparents, due to the break-up of communities. May I draw attention to an action volunteer programme, initiated in Washington, which has now spread across the United States, whereby retired men and women volunteers give service, not only in the ways well known in this country, but by accepting invitations to go into the homes of those in need, particularly where there are handicapped children and elderly people. In some particularly difficult cases a small payment is made. Such a scheme could well be organised by the National Association of Voluntary Help Organisers.

Thirdly—again a quite different subject —may I draw attention to the need for imaginative family community schemes and, in particular, draw the attention of your Lordships' House to the scheme using a disused prison at Abingdon, known as the Old Gaol. It is very well built and has lasted for hundreds of years and was converted into an Arts and Sports Centre by the then Abingdon Borough Council, serving a population of 21,000. Within five months of opening, 250,000 people, at a cost of lop per adult, 5p per child or £7.50 per family per year have visited the centre. Thus it is a family centre, the youngest member being nine months. The music section has children attending as young as 2½ years. In this way parents and children are together projecting their joint interests on to music, art, drama and sport. The setting up of such a project at this time by a local authority would be a financial impossibility, but existing community projects might well have lessons to learn from the Old Gaol and, indeed, communities themselves might seek to raise the money to initiate such a scheme.

Lastly, may I support the call made in his maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, for spiritual values as the basis of family life.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, since it is possible that I have the largest family of anyone in your Lordships' Chamber, perhaps I have the right to speak in this debate—at least, I hope so. First, may I thank the most reverend Primate for giving us the opportunity of this debate. Also may I thank him for the invitation he gave me to join the consultations at Windsor when I had the opportunity to meet so many people from so many organisations w ho are concerned about the kind of society that we want—and, within that society, obviously the family.

I must, of course, congratulate the two maiden speakers. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, will not mind my saying that he has cheated a little. He has had so much practice at making maiden speeches that obviously he has made more than anybody else. In his most professional speech the noble Lord made many valuable points, and later I should like to touch upon two of them. In his notable maiden speech the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, ably covered the immeasurable importance of Christian principles in binding together the family and I am sure that all noble Lords were most impressed by what he had to say.

Many speakers have covered the housing and financial pressures of today which affect the family. The mother is of paramount importance to the family, and these pressures can he very wearing. I am afraid that often the mother does not get her fair share of the family budget, and this has been borne out by a number of surveys which have been made. On this point, when the noble Lord the Minister replies to the debate I am sure that he will understand me when I say that I was sorry that the child benefit scheme was abandoned because, if implemented, it would have meant that mothers would be able to get hold of money. In the vast majority of cases the wife is not under extreme pressure, but in some cases she is.

Not all of the problems are financial—or environmental, for that matter. We all know of many families that have flourished under appalling conditions while others, with every advantage, have broken up. The point is that the mother is the cornerstone of the family. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, gave her vote of thanks to the mum, and I concur. Children have the most effect upon mothers. Divorce rates soar. If there are no children, not so much harm is done. The damage occurs when children are exposed to the traumatic experience of the break-up of the family. One quarter of marriages are second-time marriages. Some children find a secure family the second time round. but obviously it is a had experience for them. There are many. however, as we know only too well —and I want to come to this point later—who do not get the chance of a totally secure family and have to soldier on in one-parent families.

The noble Baroness Lady Young, made a point about the working mother. I must say a word on behalf of the noble Baroness. She has had to slip away to see members of her family. and the noble Baroness has asked me to make her apologies for not staying to the end of the debate. Some working mothers work by choice, others by necessity. Some mothers do not work. The noble Baroness. Lady Phillips. mentioned the self-effacing phrase. " I'm only a housewife ". To he a housewife is a very tough job, as any father who has had to look after the children knows only too well. Having had that experience I felt quite exhausted after coping with the family for a relatively short time. Many divorces occur because the wife did not really want to have children but was forced or conditioned into having them.

Education— not just sex education—is important here. Girls should be educated to believe that marriage does not necessitate children. Some women are naturally maternal. They can cope, and enjoy coping, with a large family. In other cases, either the wife or the husband feels that they ought to have a family and this builds up pressures for the wife. In the end she resents the children, and in some cases, as we know, the mother walks out. So it comes back to educating girls from the start that while some may choose a career others should feel quite happy and very proud that their role is to be a maternal one. If freedom of choice can he put over in education, at a later date there could be a smaller number of families, but larger ones, while there would be many more happily married couples with no children. On this basis a rather more secure system would be built up.

The most reverend Primate and other speakers mentioned the problem of marrying too young. I heartily concur with them. Again it comes back to education. Most young people feel that marriage, or whatever the association is, is to he for ever. What they do not realise is that they will change. We all change, and we go on changing throughout our lives. Consequently most divorces occur in the 25 to 34 age group. They have stuck together for a while; at the point of change the pressures build up and the marriage tends to break up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned the race to grow up. The young grow up so much earlier that obviously they will still change. So hopefully if we can bring this education which I mentioned earlier into schools, then perhaps we could see them accepting that marriage is on such a long-term basis that it is preferably taken later.

Reverting to the problems of the one parent family, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the one parent family as the amputated family. Unquestionably it puts enormous strains on the single parent, whether it is the mother or the father, and they need all the help we can give them. I join with the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, in paying tribute to the Finer Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, and the most reverend Primate spoke about the advantages of the three-tier as opposed to the two-tier family. I do not think it is quite as simple as that, although I think it is something which one should go for. I would just pose the thought: when does the mother-in-law come out of the ugly chrysalis and become a beautiful granny butterfly? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, and also the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, are the wonderful people who talk about fishing and tractors and I can see that this is part of the family which is so valuable. But, seriously on this point, there is the problem in families—and it comes hack perhaps to the housing problem—where, when the families are younger, the parents can exert quite destructive influences upon a marriage which result in a breakup. Let us hope it is a point where the individual matters and the opportunity for a three-tier family unit can he encouraged and perhaps the destructive influences can he avoided.

To come now to the question of responsibilities, the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, referred to the fact that too much help, or perhaps interference, could he counter-productive and destroy a sense of responsibility. We see this happening, and I believe that the responsible family is the secure, strong family. It also comes down to discipline. The noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, spoke about truancy and the fact that some parents do not care. We all know of many cases of violence in schools and I have seen this in a comprehensive school which my own children attend. The violence can be quite extreme and it conies hack to the parents not being responsible. It is all very well to say, " What can you do about making parents responsible? " Perhaps it is impossible to change parents; one cannot teach old dogs new tricks. So it comes hack to the point about education and the question of its being not only sex education but education for family development; education for marriage, and here the responsibilities can be taken more seriously. I think this would produce much stronger families at a later date; this is not something for the present but very much for-the future.

The question of having a Minister for the Family was raised. I can see the advantage of this, but perhaps there are some quite extreme difficulties in pulling all the strands together, and perhaps the conflicts might be too extreme. However, I very much accept the need for closer co-ordination between various departments and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will cover this adequately because I know what an expert he is on this particular subject.

Before the most reverend Primate says, " Come in No. 26, your time is up "—after so many speeches—I must make one last plea. I believe that we must help in every way to encourage fostering. I may sound like a gramophone record on this subject, hut for all the sad debris of broken marriages, or non-marriages for that matter, it offers a fresh start in real families. I accept that it creates pressures and strains on those families but it is well Worth while. On the mundane level it saves the local authorities a considerable amount of money in terms of homes, as we know only too well. So it is an extremely cost-effective way of really helping some of these children, and especially, if possible, the handicapped ones, because we know the strains under which these children live. So this last plea is for the children who are perhaps not lucky enough to be in a single-parent family but who are totally alone, and who need this help.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask whether he would agree that it is desirable that the education he wants should be given within the context of the family whenever possible rather than in schools? And would he also agree that there may be considerable scope for adult education courses aimed at the parents themselves, so that they in turn can pass it on to their children?


My Lords, I accept very much what the noble Lord has said. However. I believe I said that the problem of educating the parents is a rather more difficult one than educating the children.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to say something from these Benches to the two Members of your Lordships' House who spoke today for the first time. I am not going to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd; it would be a piece of impertinence on my part to do so. He has had such a wide experience in another place and has held such high office that few of us will he able to aspire—and I say this advisedly —to the great contribution which he has made in the Mother of Parliaments. Perhaps I may just say very sincerely from this side of the House, because I know it is felt from the other side of the House, how delighted and privileged we are to have him in this House.

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, those of us who knew Lord Robertson's father, will say—and I am sure it is always being said to him—" Well, if you are half as good as your father you will he very good ". There is every indication that he is going to he every bit as good, if I may say so, and the only comment I want to make—and I say this with some sincerity because sometimes we overdo this a bit—is that we hope he will, first, attend regularly as his father did and, secondly, that he will speak even more frequently.

I am in some difficulty. Reference has been made to the fact that the only person occupying the Officials' Box is my secretary. If I may say so, your Lordships are not entitled to draw the conclusions that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilion, did, but if she can put the cat among the pigeons or "stir it " a hit, she will do so without very much encouragement, as I know only too well! The short answer is this: there are a large number of Government Departments, all of whom have some responsibility for the family. It would not have been fair—quite apart from the fact that the House could not accommodate them all—to have had as many representatives from those Departments coming to your Lordships' House as one would have in the normal way.

Secondly, it is a subject in which I have been particularly interested for some 40 years. I did my first piece of research into the family in 1938 and was horrified to find that there were 7,000 divorces. I tried to find out what the underlying causes were, and I knew the answers then. I knew the cause of juvenile delinquency then, but as I have got older, I have come to the conclusion that I know less and less about more and more. Therefore I shall make no pronouncements tonight. Before I continue I should like to say how much I am personally indebted to the most reverend Primate of All England for introducing this debate. I knew that he had taken on something for some of us in the sense that he was going to range over a much wider area than any debate I can remember since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House.

He has touched on a large number of things. I do not think there is anything between him and myself. I want to refer to one or two things and f do not suppose there are any here who fundamentally disagree with anything he has said. I am an active member of the Anglican Church; and as he knows I am Vice-Chairman of the Church of England Council for Social Aid. I may not have another opportunity of saying to him publicly, " Please do not retire too soon " —we feel very strongly about this.

The only other thing I want to say by way of introduction is how very grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her opening. She has saved me saying a lot. I thought I must have left my notes somewhere and she had borrowed them as she was using phrases that I was going to use. I am particularly grateful to her and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. They seemed to he the only two people who have spoken in the debate today who have recognised that there is a limitation to what the Government, or any Government, can do. There has been a certain amount of implied criticism but coming from my opposite number her words were very welcome. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for recognising the limitations placed on Governments in this particular matter.

The most reverend Primate of All England raised a number of matters which I want to come to in a moment, but I think we ought to make up our minds against a picture of what is really happening to marriage and family life today. Unless we look at what is really happening we cannot make a fair appraisal of the situation. Of all the changes in life in the 20th century the transformation of marriage has been the least noticed and the least talked about—at any rate, I think so. I think one can say that the anatomy of marriage has been reshaped by forces which nobody planned and which no Government could direct. It just happened, and it appeared to happen overnight.

I do not want to talk about what I think is the greatest impact. I would he interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on this. I would have thought that the changing status of women has made a tremendous impact on marriage and family life. The advance of medical science with the consequent improvement in health is another factor. One has to hear in mind also that unhappiness in marriage is not now tolerated and as a result society has had to meet the demand for easier divorce. There is nothing wrong in that. Why should unhappiness in marriage be tolerated? Today a marriage can exist for between 45 and 50 years. Can you imagine what it must be like for some people to he looking at the same face every morning over breakfast for 40 to 45 years?

A noble Lord: They enjoy it.


Some might enjoy it, but a large number of them do not. It can put a tremendous strain upon them and they would not he able to stand the strain of a prolonged marriage. We also have to recognise that two-thirds of all children are horn before the mother reaches her 28th birthday and that four-fifths of the children are horn to a mother by the time she reaches the age of 30. This means that by the time the average mother has had the number of children she is going to have she still has 30 or more years of life before her —I do not know whether the noble Baroness is disagreeing with me. As a matter of fact, today women have an expectation of life until they are 75; we poor men, only until 70.

The interesting thing is that because of the kind of relationship which develops in a good many marriages quite a substantial number of wives—you will have to take my word for this but it is true—go out to work, not necessarily for money but for companionship. and work to them becomes a kind of leisure occupation. Most men have a very wide cruising area: most women have a very narrow one; consequently wives are not prepared to accept that in these days.

I do not want to say very much more except that medical science by its advances has changed the relationship, of which a good deal has been said. I think there is some evidence that marriage has been sexualised—there is no doubt about that. With the changing status of women, they have naturally wanted to get a great deal more out of the relationship at that level than ever before. We have heard a good deal about the " third tier ". Several people mentioned it. The most reverend Primate of All England referred to it as well. I am depending, too, on some research that I did. The demand for houses grows as each family of parents and children desires more privacy. I can remember being a probation officer in the East End of London for several years before the war when I had Stepney, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Limehouse, Pennyfields and the Isle of Dogs. It was no uncommon thing that children could not go to bed at night until the parents had come in because they were sleeping in the passage. When they grew up they were not going to stand that kind of existence. They were not going to live with mum— either mum. They wanted their own accommodation.

We have to face this fact. In spite of what some of your Lordships have said, a new aim and purpose has arisen among young people—that is, of mother-in-law avoidance. The mother-in-law is grandparent, but they do not want to live with mother-in-law; they do not want her too near, certainly not in the same house. Some do, but they want privacy, to be on their own. It is not without significance, I think I am right in saying, that every Member of your Lordships' House who has raised this question is a grandparent. In many instances the desire is coming from there, not from the young couples.


Not in every one, my Lords. I did at least point out the dangers of the mother-in-law.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord.

May I now try and deal with some of the matters which have been raised. A number of noble Lords, including the Archbishop, raised the question of housing accommodation and the inadequacy of it. Do not let us make the mistake of thinking that when a marriage breaks down it takes place because of inadequate housing. A good many marriages break down because of a personal inadequacy in the individual. Social workers will tell you that when a marriage has broken down and there seems to he a great deal of conflict and aggression between the parties, if they have been moved into a new flat sometimes the situation has got even worse. I am not saying that inadequate housing does not make a contribution, but do not let us think it is the sole contribution or even a major contribution.

We, the present Government—and I am not making a political point out of this—have set our faces against building high-rise flats. We do not intend to continue the policy of building high-rise flats. We think that in the high population densities which often produce high-rise schemes, the whole scheme of building high-rise flats could he reduced if the very low densities elsewhere were to be increased to reasonable levels. know only too well that this will cause conflict, but we cannot have it both ways. We are all agreed—the Government are certainly agreed—that high-rise flats could create a lot of personal and social disorder. Therefore, we feel that their building has got to be stopped.

My Lords, the only other point I would make about housing is this, in case there was an implied criticism. The Government continue to regard the provision of new houses as a priority, and no limits have been imposed on the number of new houses local authorities can build. We have encouraged local authorities to build as many houses as possible to meet local needs for rented accommodation. We have given them direct financial support through the Housing (Rents and Subsidies) Act. We have expanded through the housing corporation the contribution of the voluntary housing movements in this country, and the new towns have continued to make a valuable contribution. As a result, there was s a. considerable upturn on public sector house building in 1974. This upward trend was sustained in 1975. when 152,000 new public sector dwellings were completed, and 174,000 started. It is the highest figure in the last five years, and the trend is being maintained in 1976.

My Lords, a good deal was said about education, marriage, and about counselling marriages in distress. This is not an easy thing for a Government to organise. It is very difficult, I think, for local authorities to organise. As I have said many times before in your Lordships' House, we must look to this being done, along with a good deal of other voluntary work, by voluntary organisations, for which we can provide a good deal of money. I want in particular to mention the National Marriage Guidance Council which every week in hundreds of colleges and schools provides education for marriage. I also know that in, I should think, every town there is a very substantial counselling service.

I thought the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, was a little critical of my Department, because he said that Dr. Dominian had started a research centre and could not get anything for it. I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but many years ago Cardinal Griffin invited me to discuss with him the possibility of setting up a marriage guidance council for the Roman Catholic Church, which I did. For three years I organised and took part in their selection procedures and training programme, on which I lectured, and the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council was born. It is only within the last few days that I have been considering at my Department an application for a grant in order to develop the work more. If he has not already been told, the noble Duke will be glad to know that we have decided to give, within the next few weeks, a sum of £30,000 to enable them to develop their work. We gave them £16,000 last year and £8,000 the year before. We have been giving them a grant since 1971.

We must recognise that education for marriage and counselling marriages in difficulties have got to be done. It may well be it is best done by people in the voluntary sector, because usually, if they are adequately selected and adequately trained, they can give the time. Provided voluntary organisations measure up to a standard of selection and training, I do not think there will be any difficulty in getting money from any Government.

The Duke of NORFOLK

My Lords, if I may intervene, in no sense was I speaking for the Roman Catholic Church, because I consider all the Christian religions to he together as far as this House is concerned. Dr. Dominian's institution is one which researches into what has gone wrong, rather than counselling marriages. It is research on how marriages have gone wrong. Perhaps I might talk to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, afterwards.


My Lords, the noble Duke mentioned using health visitors and other people. I do not want to give a wrong impression. I do not think we ought to allow anybody loose on the community to take part in education for marriage, preparation for marriage and counselling unless we can satisfy ourselves that he or she is temperamentally suited to do this kind of work. They can do far more harm than good. I feel very strongly about this.

My Lords, the most reverend Primate again mentioned the question of the child benefit allowance as did a number of your Lordships. It is true that we, as a Government, are disappointed that we were not able to bring in the child benefit allowance scheme when we had hoped to do so. There were various reasons why we felt we could not do it at this time. There was a financial reason. I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that financial benefits given under the auspices of the Department of Health and Social Security amount to £23 million a day, £160 million a week, nearly £9,000 million a year. Last year, and again this year, we spent something over £4,000 million on housing. That is only two Departments. It is an enormous figure. I do not think any of us would claim that we are doing enough but, as far as child benefit allowance is concerned, as your Lordships know, we intended to do it, but it really was not the right moment. If I may he honest with your Lordships—and I always try to be—let me tell your Lordships the reason why.

Inevitably, the Government were faced with a dilemma over take-home pay. On the one hand, restraints on pay policy required that there should be only a limited increase. On the other hand, the full implementation of the child benefit scheme would have meant that for many workers the whole of this increase, and sometimes more, would be taken away when they lost their child tax allowances. In the present climate of a pay pause and so on, it really was not the best time to do it. We might be wrong about this, but what we want to do is to have another pay pause for the forthcoming year. In our wisdom or stupidity, we decided to bring in a benefit for the first child in April next year, hearing in mind that we have already given, some months ago, a child interim benefit to the one-parent family—not very much, but perhaps better than nothing at all.

A number of noble Lords raised the whole question of a Minister for the Family. I ought to say that, although there are no officials here, I knew some days ago what I intended to say because I knew a number of points which your Lordships would raise. One picks these up as one goes along. One knows how your Lordships think, one reads Hansard, and one or two noble Lords were good enough to give me some indication. So whatever I am saying now in fact has the approval of those much more senior to myself, and is not my view. With regard to a Minister for the Family, reference has been made to the fact that we have one for the disabled. The disabled form a relatively narrow group that can be treated as a single entity largely from within the resources of one Department. In this connection. the Minister's role was defined on his appointment as one of co-ordination within his own Department, and that was made perfectly clear at the time. The problems of the family are so wide that they are the responsibility of nearly every other Department. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, referred to four because I referred to four when we were talking about sex education. But we are not talking about sex education today, we are talking about everything that affects the family and, as far as I can tell at a rough glance, there must he at least eleven Government Departments involved. Therefore, it is felt that it would be an impossible thing to organise, for a whole variety of reasons.


My Lords, if the noble Lord would be so kind as to allow me to intervene for one moment, can he say whether perhaps the Government would look at the alternative idea which I threw out—that is, that there might perhaps he some kind of Standing Commission? I appreciate that the more Departments are involved the more difficult it becomes. For the same reason perhaps the more important it is to monitor developments in a coherent way. Would the Government consider the idea of looking at a Standing Commission of some kind?


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, because I was going to say that while we have set our face—and I would not be honest if I said otherwise —against having a Minister for the Family, I will, naturally, convey his suggestion to my colleagues, because obviously it is something worth considering.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, raised two questions. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Auckland, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, for being out of the Chamber while they were speaking. It was imperative—and I will not go beyond that—that I was absent from the Chamber. The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, raised the question of Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State ". The International Covenant on Human Rights was recently ratified, however, and will take effect from 20th August next. This is an attempt to give legal force to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 16(3) of that Declaration is now enshrined in Article 23, Section 1, of the Civil and Political Rights in the International Convention and we shall have a legal obligation to meet it. So I think the answer to the noble Viscount is that we subscribe to it and that when it comes into force we shall have a legal obligation to apply it.

The noble Viscount also raised another question. The Convention says: The child shall enjoy special protection and shall be given opportunities and facilities by law and by other means to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner … My recollection is that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor dealt with this in his speech. What he said was that the Government accept that children should be protected against exposure to pornography. I think, again, that this is what the noble Viscount wanted.


My Lords, if my noble friend will permit me, he has exactly stated what I would have said had I applied my spoken word to the question.


My Lords. I thought the noble and learned Lord said that the Government's position remains as my noble friend Lord Harris stated it then: We share the general concern about indecent display particularly of matter which may fall into the hands of children ". I do not think there is anything between us. I think we have been able to assure the noble Viscount that that is precisely what he wanted.

I come to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. I have dealt with the question of a Minister for the Family. He asked about the obligation of the Government. I think the answer to that is that what applies to the Monarch and the Constitution as a whole applies no less to the Government. I think one must follow the other. I am not going to enter tonight into a discussion on sex education, on what is right or wrong. I think the noble Earl, if he does not mind my saying so, tends to oversimplify this business of right and wrong. I wish I was as sure as he is.


My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord says, and I have great difficulty; as I get older, I find it more and more difficult to make the distinction. The point is to recognise that there is a distinction and that this is relevant to the upbringing of families. I am sure he will agree with that, and we are back again at one.


My Lords, there is no doubt at all in my mind, and I know there is no doubt in the mind of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, that the Government believe implicitly—and if I say certainly this Government it is because I am speaking for this Government —in the family and recognise that the family needs all the support that society, through the Government, can give it: because we realise—we have said so over years—that much of the personal and social disorder in this country stems from bad family life. If there is anything that we can do, then it must be sustained. I can give the noble Earl that assurance. The noble Earl might like to know—he probably does not know this and I think very few people do—that one of the things I was able to do, with two other people, in 1947, nearly thirty years ago, was to go to see the then Registrar-General to talk about the importance of getting across to people who were being married in register offices what marriage is all about. Perhaps very few people know that in a good many register offices today—not all of them because there are sometimes circumstances or marriages where it would not apply—the Registrar says: Before you are joined in matrimony I have to remind you of the solemn and binding character of the ceremony of marriage. This is the part that some of us were able to get put in in 1947: Marriage according to the law of this country is the voluntary union of one man with one woman, entered into for life to the exclusion of all others. I hope it will remain in it.

Finally, I should like to make one or two comments on what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said. She mentioned the survey of the needs of the under-fives. Perhaps I may shortly say that the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has been carrying out a national survey of 2,500 under-fives, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security, to determine the extent of and the need for day provision for the under-fives. I could go on, hut I do not want to take up the time of the House. That is certainly well under way. When it comes to child minding, the National Educational Research and Development Trust, on the research and report side, has a tendency, I think, to sensationalise a situation in order to increase public attention, not always. I think, on sound evidence. An example of this is their estimates of the numbers of unregistered minders, varying up to 300.000. which the Community Relations Committee last year sharply criticised.

On the other hand, their reports—and I am thinking in the main of action registers—are examples of good practice in minder support schemes. A number of other local authorities offer such schemes, which are of undoubted value. We share the concern with the Trust that the whole status of child minding should be raised to encourage minders to register and to be regarded as a full and valuable part of the day care services. We are in a great deal of sympathy with what they are doing.

Since 1974 my Department has financed a programme of research involving some 20 projects—I shall not list them all—which is administered by the Social Science Research Council, at some considerable cost to us, into social problems in successive generations of the same family, and any factors associated with apparent breaks in the cycle. The pro- gramme is expected to run for seven years, and so far 20 pieces of research have been commissioned.

For those of your Lordships who are interested, I would commend to you two publications which were the responsibility of the last Government under the then Secretary of State for the Social Services on Preparation for Parenthood—some 30 professional voluntary research organ-isations met for quite a long period to produce this book—and on the Dimensions of Parenthood which also was dealt with by the Secretary of State in the last Government. They are documents containing a whole wealth of information and are worth having.

I do not think that I ought to take up more of your Lordships' time, except to say what I said at the beginning; that is, that we in the Department of Health and Social Security and the Government are grateful to the most reverend Primate of All England for initiating this debate. It has ranged over a far wider field than any one person could deal with at this stage, but I can assure you that this Government are not unmindful of the importance of the family, and they are not unmindful of the severe strains which the family is experiencing. I can assure your Lordships that anything that this Government can do to strengthen family life—and this is not just a phrase—they will do, and do so gladly because they recognise that a happy family life creates the kind of atmosphere which one wants to see, and recognise that a bad family and bad family life give rise to far more personal and social disorder than we can sometimes deal with.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, at this hour of the evening I am sure you would wish me to be very brief, and that indeed I shall be. I must express my gratitude to all those who have taken part in a debate of very high level and given us speeches of wonderful quality. May I express my own gratitude for the care and courtesy with which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, dealt with the points raised in the course of this long debate. Having looked at the same face over breakfast for just over 40 years, and done so with maximum pleasure, I am perhaps a little biased in the way in which I make my concluding remarks tonight, though I have enough experience of life to know something of the strains and stresses which lead so often to the breakdown of marriages.

May I just express a word of gratitude to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, for her kind " commercial " for Canterbury Cathedral. I almost feel inclined to tell you how the appeal is going on, but that I will bypass. May I accept the rebuke from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, for the lack of ramps in all too many churches for those who are physically handicapped, and at the same time express to her my gratitude for her speech, so clearly made against a background obviously of very deep concern and very considerable knowledge of many of the problems which we have been debating today.

There are two things I want to say in conclusion. First, a great deal has been said about the handicapped in the course of the debate—handicapped children in particular, physically handicapped—and mentally handicapped and I would express the hope that the Government will keep in mind the service being rendered by the Family Fund and will see to it that it is continued even when the voluntary agency now carrying out this service has to hand it over. I do not think that the matter was raised in the course of this long debate, but it is a matter of considerable concern that that good work should indeed continue.

The last thing I want to say is just a word about this matter of a Minister for the Family, which was praised with faint damns by a number of speakers and then was rescued from a rather grisly end by a number of speeches of considerable weight, among which I would mention those by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. I care not very much what his title is, whether he be called a Minister for the Family, but it seemed to me that the noble Earl. Lord Halsbury, made some suggestions which were well worth looking into as to what he is called and to what he is attached. These are matters which, in my ignorance. I would not feel confident of speaking about.

What I am anxious about is that there should be a watchdog, The fact which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, mentioned in his concluding speech that the breadth of the legislation is such, and the range of the social care is so wide, that it covers some 11 Government Departments, only underlines for me the need for some such watchdog, some cohesive person to hold this all together and see that the issues in fact do not fall between 11 stools. Let me just close with that. I take the word " watchdog " from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his speech. That is precisely what I want to see, and impenitently on that note, I plead for further consideration for this matter, whatever the title of the man concerned may eventually be and to whatever Department he be attached. With that, may I say once again a word of deep gratitude for the way that this Motion has been received, and beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.