§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs rose to call attention to the difficulties currently encountered by those responsible for the upbringing and care of children at home, at school and at leisure; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must first emphasise that it is with a very real sense of humility that I am introducing a subject into your Lordships' House which I know commands so much of your Lordships' knowledge and expertise when at the same time I myself do not have a great deal. I do it for two reasons. I do it, first, because of a genuine concern that we should keep our priorities relating to the needs of children in the right perspective and, secondly, because of the perpetual reminder to me of youth, provided by the constant presence of my own three teenagers, plus all their friends, not to mention the ensuing state of debilitation which this brings on. Therefore I hope to present the scenario of childhood, comprising its three major components of home, school and leisure. Through the examination of these different areas, perhaps we can then better assess whether our present social, economic and educational policies are maintaining the necessary balance. It will then be for other noble Lords who are more expert and experienced than I in children's affairs to put forward practical adjustments. I should simply like to conclude by making general comments and suggestions.
§ What does constitute the background to the life of a child in the 1980s? It is conventional to talk about a rapidly changing society. I expect noble Lords did so in the previous debate, which I did not hear. Indeed, it is clear that the rapid change which is now with us shows no sign of abatement in the immediate future. These include, first, the demographic changes leading to a decline in the birth rate, a reduction in population growth and an increasing proportion of old people—also the arrival in Britain of a large African and Asian population, with the consequent build-up of a multicultural society. Then there is the movement of population from the inner cities to the suburbs, leading to the appearance of whole areas of urban blight and decay. Next there are the technical changes which lead to the decline of old industries—and, we devoutly hope, the start of new ones—and the present monetarist policies which are bringing about heavy unemployment. 252 Lastly, there are the cultural changes which not only are widening the generation gap but which are even creating a division between siblings. These changes have led to a decline in the acceptance of traditional moral values and to the establishment of a permissive society.
§ These are issues which have often been examined in your Lordships' House from social and economic viewpoints; but what is not so often discussed, but which seems to be so relevant today, is the question of their combined effect on those three components of a child's life which I have chosen as the focal points of this debate; namely, the first element in the life of a young person growing up being his family and his home. Then, as he goes through childhood, his whole attitude to life and the way he spends his time will be profoundly affected by the other two great areas of experience: the world of school and the facilities provided for leisure. There can be no doubt at all as to the total interdependence of these three areas. Thus, if through changes in society one of these areas is weakened or threatened, it is for one or both of the other two to try to take up the strain. So I should now like, very briefly, to outline the pressures, as I see them, weighing on each one of these areas in order to ascertain which is currently being most threatened.
§ First, there is unequivocal evidence that there is a grievous strain on the home and on family life. The staggering increase in unemployment in Britain has brought not only poverty into many more homes but also tension arising out of the despair of enforced idleness—of probably the father and head of the family. This poverty has been accentuated by the unprecedented rise in the cost of basic living essentials. Many homes will contain young school-leavers showing signs of apathy or delinquency at their failure even to enter the employment market. Many homes contain but a single parent, and many more are working mothers either representing the sole breadwinner or engaged in the chase after more and more consumer goods, something which our present values urge her to do. Either way, it means more and more latch-key children. Through the diminution of the extended family and through the lack of provision for any adequate childminding service, such children will often be in the care of disinterested babysitters. Then the reduction in the level of social services means less care for the casualties of the community: those who are most in need of help and those who can be most destructive to society. Finally, there is increasing violence in the home, and continuing environmental health hazards. That is the plight of the home.
§ Next, what are the pressures on the second world in a child's existence—that of his school? Here it roust be categorically accepted that school represents a very powerful component, because it is a major area in a child's upbringing that is supervised and monitored by society. Children in fact can be virtually invisible until they attend school, as the domestic home can be a closed unit, with even the social worker and the health visitor requiring a magistrates' order to enter it. In my view, one of the pressures felt by a child at school is his feeling of imprisonment within the present examination system, coupled with his feeling that many of the subjects taught are irrelevant, and his scepticism that either the teaching he is absorbing or the passing 253 of examinations will gain him a job at the end of it all. The pressures on teachers come from high teacher-pupil ratios and a breakdown of discipline in hard-pressed inner city areas—as we have tragically seen in recent times. The teacher may also suffer through lack of support from parents, and in many areas he or she is grappling with the complexities of dealing with classes made up of children who come from different cultures.
§ Lastly, before examining the third area—that of leisure—we have, first, to redefine the word itself. To the old conventional concept that leisure is the use of spare time consisting of entertainment and rest must be added the more recent concept of enforced leisure, brought on by lack of jobs, especially in the case of school-leavers. This, tragically, must be recognised as a major, growing element of life which in some degree may well be here to stay. The pressures on the deployment of leisure, both conventional and enforced, are various. First, we are lacking a true infrastructure for its deployment. Not enough resources are being put into the types of centres where the young can use their extended leisure periods in enjoyable and constructive ways. Furthermore, the constructive use of time is being undermined by commercially motivated activities such as, to mention but a few, space invaders, football hooliganism and television. It is indeed a sobering thought that the average child in this country today will watch between 21 and 35 hours of television a week. I wonder whether the television services really face up to the incredible responsibility which they bear. I rather fear they do not.
§ In conclusion, I should like to suggest to your Lordships that of the three areas making up a child's life it is undoubtedly his home, the family unit, which is the most undermined, bearing as it does the brunt of so many of the social changes through which we are living. Following my theory that when one area is threatened the other two must take up the strain, may I make a few suggestions as to how the child's school on the one hand, and the community and youth services on the other, could lighten the burden on the family?
§ First, the school. There is, I know, an ongoing curriculum debate and I do not propose to enter into it. But while believing that in this high technology society children need the relevant academic preparation, and in any case academic subjects are part of a life training, nevertheless with the breakdown of the family in mind there seems to be a very real case for accentuating additional areas of learning. A course in future parenthood for both boys and girls is one example.
§ Statistics reveal that, on the one hand, young people are getting married earlier and earlier or that, in lieu of marriage, there are disturbing signs of very young girls becoming pregnant merely in order to become eligible for higher allowances, a place on the housing list and, most tragically of all, literally to create a job for themselves. On the other hand, there is unequivocal evidence that violence in the home is increasing. It is reported that in this country, 3,000 to 4,000 children are battered each year. Examination of the parents reveal that the mothers who harm their children most are those who bear their first child at an age well below the average.
§ A course at school on future parenthood would not only give children an idea of what it is like, but it 254 would also help them with the intrinsic problems of running a home efficiently and economically. With the increase in the number of professional working mothers, it is of equal importance for boys as well as girls to follow such a course.
§ On another point, it is felt by many in the community and voluntary organisations that a curriculum revision requires the very definite participation not only of the education authorities, teaching professions and careers officers, but increasingly of youth development officers and representatives from industry. In order to create a curriculum truly relevant to the needs of today's labour market and to the current ingredients of life, the thinking of all those involved with the young must be concerted. Furthermore, the present school curriculum includes little political education, which would give young people some understanding of the economic and political background which has brought on their problems. Many children continue to find basic everyday communication difficult. There is little in the curriculum to help them with this. Finally, in my view, there is a need for more skills training, in order to help the student in every way to become more self-sufficient.
§ On another aspect, it seems extraordinary that school buildings are little used, or used not at all, between the hours of 3.30 p.m. and 9 o'clock the next morning. Activities involving the child, parents and teachers in a truly community setting, of which the school can be the centre, seem to be vital in lightening the strain under which the family is tottering. I would have thought that at the end of class times, school buildings could be used increasingly by community and voluntary organisations for their schemes.
§ We now come to the point of examining whether the Government of the day are maintaining the correct priorities to ensure that children's interests are not being jeopardised by society's changing circumstances. I would like to bring my remarks to an end by addressing the following comments and suggestions to the noble Lord the Minister. First, does he think that the Government are really doing enough to relieve the circles of deprivation in which some of Britain's larger and less privileged families live? As I understand it, the 1982 child benefit allowance represents a reduction in real terms of more than 20 per cent. on that of 1955. When one sees how a family lives in a deprived area of Belfast, the true facts of poverty are brought home. In fact, social workers in Northern Ireland are convinced that, even if the violence ceased there tomorrow, few of the children's problems would change as they would continue to suffer under the devastating effects of extreme poverty.
§ Secondly, would the Minister not agree that with the present strain on the family it is the voluntary organisations, including community and youth workers, who are admirably suited to helping the very young with the problems of their time, but that their work needs enormous resources and support, and that volunteers cannot also be fund-raisers? Indeed, why should they be?
§ Thirdly, is it not true that the time is approaching for a reappraisal of the long-accepted views of the British education system? After all, the Education Act 1944, admirable though it was, came into being before the majority of today's teachers were even born. On another point, do the Government honestly 255 think that they are doing everything possible to avoid environmental health risks to children? Would the Minister not agree that, to cite just one example, medical evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that lead in petrol is undermining children's health?
§ Fifth, does the Minister not feel that there should be concern about our methods of dealing with young offenders? We in this country lock up more of our young people than does almost any other European country. Does the Minister not feel that the failure of this system is unequivocably proved by the fact that, of those released from detention centres, 73 per cent. are reconvicted after two years, and that borstal reconvictions account for a figure of 81 per cent? Does this not indicate that some of the £70 million spent on these centres would be better redirected to youth and community organisations who, through trying to uncover the root causes of delinquency, are succeeding in reintegrating some youthful energy for the common good?
§ Sixth, should the Government not try to help single-parent families a little more? These are rapidly increasing in number and are fast approaching the 1 million mark. One area in which the Government could well help would be to be more supportive in their attitude towards child minding. Finally, would the Minister not agree that the time may be arriving when a final look has to be taken at the infrastructure and machinery for dealing with all these problems? There is a lot of talk about having a commission for children, or indeed a children's ombudsman. I believe that either could well oversee all these different forces which are involved in looking after children.
§ I would like to thank all noble Lords who are contributing to this debate. I believe that we should do all we can to sharpen our focus on the true needs and priorities of children today. Not only do they deserve this, but they are to my mind, from my knowledge of them, incredibly original, generous and idealistic—and I would hate to think that any of our mistakes might jeopardise those very great qualities. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the whole House will be extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for having chosen this subject for debate this afternoon and for having introduced it in such a very comprehensive way. In particular, I believe that the remarks she made and the questions she posed towards the end of her speech are going to repay more detailed re-reading and understanding than we have been able to give in a short time, because the noble Baroness asked some very deep and searching questions to which all of us—and not only the Government—would do well to pay attention.
The noble Baroness has attracted a number of eminent speakers who know a great deal about this subject. In particular we are extremely pleased to see on the list of speakers as a maiden speaker the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter. The incumbents of that See have always had a reputation in this House for learning and for the incisiveness of the views which they have brought to your Lordships' discussions—not least the immediate predecessor of the right reverend 256 Prelate. Although it has taken the present right reverend Prelate four years to bring himself to address us, we look forward to him doing so often in the future.
At some time in the last six months there appeared a little cutting in The Times—I think it was mainly a news item reported by Dr. Tony Smith, the medical correspondent of The Times—which produced a really extraordinary piece of news. It said that since 1976 measurements of children's heights in Sweden have shown no difference between social classes; every child grows to its full genetic potential. My Lords, the mention of Sweden usually turns off quite a large number of people anyway in the field of social welfare. It is one of those words which, quite unjustifiably, is considered to usher in a sort of conventional one attitude approach to social welfare. But it was an extraordinary achievement. It is very doubtful, I think, whether ever before in the history of the world a country has actually managed to level out the differences in health between the various classes of its children. It is an achievement towards which, we must praise the Swedes on what they have achieved, every single country must also try to move; and particularly this must be so in the advanced countries, in economically advanced countries like our own, which have absolutely no excuse for not moving in that direction.
It cannot be done overnight. There is no hope that we in Britain would achieve such an aim probably in under 20 or 30 years. It takes almost a generation from when you have very nearly achieved that kind of equality to achieve it in your children, because quite clearly the effect of the differences among parents will affect the children. It is a gradual matter. The most that we can do is to see that we are moving in the right direction and to see that these differences are being narrowed. And that is not only the most that we can do, but it is absolutely and fundamentally the least that we can do too. If we are not moving in that direction, we are not fit to call ourselves a civilised country.
My Lords, we are not moving in that direction, or there are very grave doubts as to whether we are. Sir John Brotherston, in his Galton Lecture in 1975, said:The gaps remain as wide apart as a generation ago, and in some instances the gaps may be widening".There are many of us in this Chamber who have seen the gaps narrow a very great deal, the difference, for instance, between the pre-war children and the post-war children. If you look at the photographs of slum children in Picture Post, or, as I remember, children in the village that I grew up in, the difference between their health and their appearance then and the appearance of children after the war, and in the whole period of prosperity we have more or less enjoyed since, has been very great. But as Sir John Brotherston said, in the last generation it is probable that there has not been much movement, and indeed at the moment we may even be moving backwards.
The last Labour Government very rightly—and I think they deserve all praise—set up an inquiry into inequalities in health, and in 1980 the Black Report on inequalities in health duly came out. It was received with marked lack of enthusiasm by the Government, who admitted that they could not find any money to do anything about any of its recommendations, and the Secretary of State said: 257I cannot, therefore, endorse the group's recommendations. I am making the report available for discussion but without any commitment by the Government to its proposals".That, my Lords, is the understatement of the century, it seems to me. Not only there was no commitment to its proposals, but the Government have actually moved in a reverse direction.
Among the recommendations that were regarded by the authors of this report as absolutely essential were, for instance, a non-means-tested free milk scheme, universal, a commitment of the Government to the health in education scheme, larger child benefits, an increase in maternity grant, non-means-tested school meals. If you look at that list and you tick them off one by one, you will see how much we have failed to do anything about what should have been done, and which was quite rightly pointed out by Sir Douglas Black and his colleagues.
It is not only in this particular area of health that the Government have failed to respond to the challenge that is posed to them. In the recent Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill we from these Benches, my noble friend Lord Banks, and Members of this House in various parties, urged on the Government that there should be an addition for children in the administration of sickness pay, and this was rejected by the Government. It was a step which was quite clearly necessary. This is not just an Opposition or a Liberal Party recommendation; in another place the Social Services Select Committee called it a shift in public policy entirely in the wrong direction.
In these short debates we do not have much time to go on with a catalogue of what is wrong and what has been done which is wrong over the last few years, but before I sit down there is one more field that I would like to talk about. That is education. Here there is another damning report produced by an official body, and this is the report by Her Majesty's inspectors on the effects of local authority expenditure policies on the education service in England, 1981. I had occasion to quote this only the other day in your Lordships' House, but I will certainly quote it again and it cannot be quoted too often.
The HMI's point out the difficulty that exists now because of the shortage of money in providing remedial teaching, or responding to pupils with a range of special learning needs. They particularly pull out for examination and for condemnation the increasing incidence of subjects being taught by teachers who do not hold appropriate specialist qualifications. They also pull out for examination the number of subjects which have to be dropped which particularly help those children who are academically less well equipped. All these economies—and I will close on the vexed subject of economies—show that a discrimination is happening which makes it harder and worse for the poorer children and for the less clever children, whether it is in health or in education.
There is, of course, an economic crisis. But there are resources; there are teachers out of work who could be doing this teaching. We have got our economics wrong; we have got our way of administering them wrong, and the Government are, in my view, a prime culprit. It is a shame that, on a day when we want to be talking in a wide way about the whole of the future of our children, one or two of us—and I hope that there 258 will be one or two others—have to concentrate on the troubles that are occurring and the damage that is being done by the Government's present policies. But I say to the Government that their economics cannot be right. Indeed, their economics cannot be right not just because they are diminishing our capital, not just because they are keeping able-bodied people out of work, but because they are putting at risk the future of our children and particularly the future of our poorer and more disadvantaged children. Until they find some way of rejigging their economic policy to put this situation into reverse, they will not be doing their duty.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, by initiating this debate the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has given us scope to consider the complex and changing problems that beset the parents of today's children and teenagers. The noble Baroness herself has given us vivid and very useful descriptions. In asking your Lordships to look at the case of the parents of mentally and/or physically handicapped children, I do so with a wish to be realistic and certainly not to be sentimental. This problem is somewhat different from the others—it refers to situations where a family can be diminished by the anxiety, the distress and the tedium of having to give long-term support to what can be the ugly burden of coping and caring for a child who cannot keep up with the fun and games of able-bodied children. However much they may wish to include the disabled child, if, for instance, he or she is covered in splints or is in a wheelchair et cetera, it can be very difficult.
Many is the time as a child that I sat by the swings and the seesaw, by the tennis court and the skating rink where, before polio, I had played a leading part, knowing that now all that I could do was to pretend that I did not mind. One saw others having a high old time and because mine was a wonderfully supportive family the effect of this on me was fairly negligible. But it was quite enough to make me know the desperate need of the chance for this type of child, coming from a less happy background than mine, to get rid of these fetters and to be able to let off steam.
When I first came upon the Handicapped Adventure Playground Association it seemed as though by magic all these sadnesses had been realised and put right. Of course, it was not by magic but by the inspiration and hard work of the late Lady Allen of Hurtwood who had determined, through play opportunities, to make up for the deprivations suffered by handicapped children. Now there are five of these handicapped adventure playgrounds in London—I am sure that many of your Lordships will know this well—and the children who go to them may be hearing impaired, partially-sighted, spastic, paralysed and in many other ways handicapped. But there they are and they can be found having a marvellous time. Whether it be on the swings and slides, or the inflatables, on rafts on the pond, playing with bonfires and cooking, or just looking after the pet rabbits and sloshing about with paint, by ingenious methods it is made possible for them to be involved. The improvement in the confidence of the children who attend is immediately noticeable and I have known parents, particularly those living in very restricted quarters, who can hardly believe how their 259 child has blossomed in these circumstances. So with our wish to integrate today it is excellent that able-bodied friends and families are now welcomed to the playgrounds during holidays so that all can have a good romp together.
Many of the playgrounds cater for 500 children to visit each week and the imagination and devotion of the play leaders and of the voluntary committees whose work is beyond praise, is one of the much more encouraging aspects of today's life. They are rewarded to see their charges becoming self-sufficient and resourceful. Indeed, I think that there is one case that might interest your Lordships. It is the case of a boy who in the term-time attended a boarding school for mentally handicapped children. While he was there a fire started and because of his experience of controlling bonfires at the handicapped adventure playground, he was a leader in stopping that fire from spreading in the school. That shows the kind of experience that is given and the addition to their resourcefulness that is gained by allowing and enabling these children to let off steam and find their own level.
London is very lucky to have this coverage of handicapped adventure playgrounds. It may be worth mentioning that Lambeth's adventure playground, which will be opened this autumn, is to be called the Charlie Chaplin Playground, for pretty obvious reasons. But it seems to me so very suitable that somebody who gave such pleasure to so many children during his lifetime shall be now remembered in this way. There are a few other urban and county areas who bravely launched out into such a scheme. But there are still very many areas where the unfortunate parents of these children are still deprived of these progressive methods. I obviously could not recommend too highly that such schemes be supported at every level—education authority and voluntary organisations working together to obtain the ear and the purse of the funding bodies.
There is no doubt that, when a child has been hospitalised repeatedly, or just splinted, the psyche can and does suffer and then the parents are saddled too with a difficult child. The problems may be quite different from those of other strapping and healthy young people, but they are problems that deserve to be thought over and catered for if only to prevent psychiatric trouble at a later date.
Many parents of mentally handicapped children, parents whose hardship surely is among the worst in our society, are greatly helped today by the Toy Libraries Association. That helps to keep the child constantly amused and occupied by expensive toys that it would be beyond the scope of the parents to buy continually. They receive a flow of toys and equipment through this excellent association which gives a service of great mercy and therapy.
I know that this aspect of parents problems is only a very small corner of the many which abound today. Indeed, it is a family problem which only in recent years has come to he shared in the community. Now that these methods have been found not only to alleviate the private sadness of the parents, but to enable the children to have the whale of a good time, it seems right that we should press on. I can only hope that my 260 noble friend the Minister will see that these schemes deserve every possible help.
§ 5.59 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter
My Lords, this is the first occasion upon which I have had the honour to address your Lordships. Precedent leads me to hope that I may be favoured by your Lordships' forbearance and indulgence. I must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for providing the opportunity for this subject to be debated, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for the expression of his personal expectations.
In such a debate it would be easy for us to over-assess the difficulties with which we are faced. Difficulties there are indeed. However, we should be thankful for the fact that there are blessings to be counted. Within the recall of some present in your Lordships' House there was in this country underprivilege and deprivation on a huge scale; real poverty, hunger and undernourishment that led to infant mortality and serious impairment of health; bad housing, not just inadequate but almost inconceivably unacceptable by today's standards; a brief schooling in cramped and unsuitable conditions; exploitation of teenage children at work; cruelty and brutal chastisement at home; curtailed horizons that dictated the fixing of the limits as to what a child might aspire both to be and to do in later life.
Thank God that a great deal of that is in the past. For the most part, our children and young people know nothing of hunger. Their homes, their clothing, their health and their schooling are all to a standard that would have astonished our grandparents, even our parents. Children are mobile and free to travel both in a physical sense and in a social sense. If vestiges of the bad old days are still seen to be a matter of concern, it is because we recognise those days and ways to be bad and, therefore, to be eradicated.
The difficulties encountered in our time are of a different calibre. They spring from new pressures. First, there is the chipping away of the moral base which is essential to the wellbeing of society. I would be the first to admit that Christians do not hold the monopoly on morality. Certainly Christians are not alone in contending that what a man does springs from what he believes. Some might say—possibly with justification—that the Christian Churches themselves have contributed to the chipping away process. The fact remains that whereas 50 years ago a child at least knew the difference between "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong", nowadays those words have all but disappeared from his given vocabulary. They have been replaced by such words as "appropriate" and "acceptable"—"appropriate conduct", "acceptable behaviour". The first can be made to mean anything or nothing. The second can loosely be interpreted as meaning: If enough people are doing it, or will let you get away with doing it, then it is "okay"; it is not "right", not "good", but "okay". What a seedbed is there!
Secondly, by way of new pressures on the successful nurture of the young is the trend towards adult disengagement from the nurturing process. Comparative affluence takes its toll. Even with 3 million unemployed many children grow up in homes in which 261 both parents are in fulltime work. The temptation on the part of those parents is to attempt to provide for their children materially from the fruits of their own hard work, and to think that they are thereby absolved from providing the demanding personal involvement with their children's development and control. This trend has a cogent spillover into the lives of those parents who are teachers and perhaps, more significantly, those adults who have the potential for voluntary work among children and young people. Arising out of this is a third pressure—that occasioned by the evident withering of the concept of the family as the nuclear cell of society. This is a complex matter. I shall refer to it only in microcosm.
I do not think that I am alone in having benefited from what I was given, as a child, at the family table. Sitting at table with both parents and brother and sisters, one received nurture as well as nourishment. There, at the table, was gained a sense of the fitness of things—what was "on" and what was not, the knowledge of how to recognise and value others, how to receive the regard of others, how to take advice and sometimes correction. Is it generally known that in most family households in this country today it is, to say the least, unusual for the whole family to sit at table together for more than one meal in the week? Such is the way we are organised in our daily living that the family is not only not given a chance, but also its responsibilities and obligations are in danger of being usurped.
The fourth pressure point is less precise. I speak of the impact on the life of children and young people of pressures that arise from the fact that they live in a society that is affluent and technologically highly-developed. I allude only to one or two manifestations of what I mean. First, children now constitute a profitable market as children. From the earliest age their vulnerability is exploited by those who see them as buyers. One of the first things they learn from television advertisements is the message: To succeed is to get and to have. They go on to learn from the television programmes themselves not to be too fussy as to the methods they use in the getting and in the having. Most young people, too, have had some sort of taste of the so-called "good life". They look on it, rightly or wrongly, as the norm. So caught are they in what might be termed the "affluence-trap" that, when hard-times come, the pressures are on them to take by illicit means those things they have been led to believe are theirs by right.
Again, the last two or three decades have seen a steady growth in what might be called, "giantism". For a concern or agency to be efficient in the productive sense it must be on a large scale. If this philosophy is applied to the field of education, as often as not it is at the expense of the true nurturing of the children. Most primary schools are, thank God, comparatively small. In such a school you will find a secure, relaxed atmosphere in which young children are known and valued and in which they can grow in wisdom and in stature in a remarkably heartening way. I only wish that I could say the same of children who receive their secondary stage of education in vast establishments—so big that even the staff are not known to each other. If that is true of the comparatively lightly-populated regions of the far south-west of England, I dread to 262 think what the conditions must be like in the vast urban areas. Small may not necessarily be beautiful, but "giantism" has an ugly face when it looks upon children.
In a maiden speech I must not detain your Lordships longer. I conclude by asking a question to which I venture to give an answer. What are children for? Are they "living dolls", brought into being for the pleasure and indulgence of their parents? Are they, essentially, potential "hands", potential voters, potential ratepayers—the "stuff" of the future? If that is all they are, we shall treat them as such and they will scrape through as best they can in a hostile, dangerous, shifting world in which the rat-race is the norm.
Children are not, essentially, for any of those ends. I must say that children are for God. They come from the Good Lord, they belong to the Good Lord and they are going to him. Each one of them is infinitely precious in His sight. It is the privilege of those of us who have survived to adulthood, and even to old age, to play some part, in spite of all the difficulties, in providing a background against which all our children may be helped to deploy to the full all the gifts with which a gracious and loving Creator-Father has undoubtedly endowed them.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am delighted to be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on his most moving and enlightening maiden speech. I am sure your Lordships will endorse my wish that we hear him more often. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for instigating this debate.
"Society is to blame for the ills of our generation"—or so we are told by those who claim to know. But it is a lame and threadbare excuse, made boring by repetition. The first and last responsibility for children, as it has been since the dawn of creation, must—I repeat, must—lie fairly and squarely on the shoulders of their parents. Because it is they, and no one else, who make the decision to have a baby and who initiate the process whereby it is brought into the world to become part of the great community of life. Having taken that decision, it becomes the bounden duty of all parents to bear the responsibility of ensuring that their children are properly prepared to become responsible and useful members of society.
Despite all the facilities provided by the State and other organisations to guide parents, there are still too many who do not prepare themselves adequately for the enormous responsibilities of parenthood. I have come to the conclusion that the rearing and training of children is not instinctive. Certainly I have found, as I am sure you have, those who are more capable, often considerably more capable, than others at coping with the difficulties which beset all parents. The vast majority of parents can, and do, adapt to social change but whatever these changes have been, are, or will be in the future there are certain fundamental qualities which must be learned both directly and by example from an early age. Among them, respect for other people and respect for property, which I take leave to mention because they seem so singularly lacking in certain categories of youngsters today.
How can a child be expected to become a responsible, 263 articulate and useful adult, valued by the community if he, or she, has no yardstick against which to measure the standard of his conduct, the value of his work, and the use of the contribution he can make to the common good? I am sure when we consider the problem we are happily agreed that it is only a minority of parents who find the difficulties and problems in the path of parenthood insuperable, and that fortunately the majority of youngsters are well disciplined, eager to learn and keen to do well in life. This would indicate that the difficulties that the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has so properly brought to the attention of the House can be overcome. The purpose of the debate is to evaluate the difficulties and presumably to search for the means to overcome them.
I can only begin to scratch the surface of this complex subject, for there are so many factors which affect our children. For example, there are generations of low intellect families, few of whom ever rise above the vicious circle of low income, poor housing, inadequate nourishment, and who, because of continuous changes in housing and employment policies, are removed from their wider family. Their children are a burden to them and to society. They are turned out on to the streets to fend for themselves, and almost inevitably they will find themselves in trouble. The social services network has been set up to try to prevent some of the worst situations arising, but they cannot hope, however well intentioned are the social workers, to cover all the needs of those with difficulties.
Unemployment still carries the stigma of inefficiency and incompetence, and the man who, through no fault of his own, has lost his job must be shown that it is vitally important that he retains his self-esteem and the respect of his children. There are pre-retirement classes held by many firms and organisations. Could not similar classes be given to the unemployed to enable them better to understand their situation, and to enlighten instead of antagonise their children? Then there is the effect the media have in the propagation of ideas. We have always in this country prided ourselves on the freedom of our media, but surely true freedom must know some bounds. There are certain irresponsible elements who seem to positively encourage open rebellion against authority, aggression and violence, without the caveat that it is irresponsible and wrong. It is extremely difficult for parents to explain to their children that not all they see and hear from supposedly responsible institutions is right or indeed true. Particularly if the parents have difficulty in expressing themselves.
Time does not permit me to develop further the problems of the inner cities, cultural differences between our ethnic groups, the pressures on children to attain beyond the limits of their own ability, communication failure within the family, and a myriad of other points which present difficulties. It is said that for every problem there is a solution, but this must be based upon the supposition that resources are unlimited. We have a great fund of practical experience and knowledge in this country. We need to encourage a return to the concept of family responsibility, backed up by education both inside and outside our schools and colleges. Children should be encouraged to discuss problems, both their own and those of others 264 they observe, with those responsible for their upbringing. It is amazing how many difficulties can be resolved simply by talking about them, thereby increasing the understanding of adults by children and vice versa. This is a subject which has for long held my attention, and I wish again to thank the noble Baroness for enabling me to speak in this debate.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I now have been in your Lordships' House for six years, and on only one other occasion in those six years has there been a debate in your Lordships' House on the needs of children and their families, and that was during the International Year of the Child. Therefore, we are very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for initiating this debate today.
May I take up one point. In such a short time one can only cover perhaps one small sector of interest. The noble Baroness talked about the children in this country in custodial care, and all that that implied. I have looked up the figures and it is true that in this country we have more children in custodial care than any of the other EEC countries. We have been dealing with juvenile delinquency, and it is on this that I wish to talk today, albeit for only eight minutes. We are not succeeding in our treatment of juvenile delinquency. Is the time not coming for us to look at a completely new structure of help, care, control and discipline for those children who infringe the law?
In the Health Service the health visitor sees all children under five and is able to help those children and those parents where one child is particularly in need of medical help. By the same token, every child goes to school, and therefore it seems to me that it is in the school that we should develop a system of assessing which particular children need help in a particular way, and who their parents are and what help they need and want.
I know that we have put a lot on to our teachers. We are now asking them much more in the light of the new Education Bill. We have done away with the eight handicaps, and we have now said that the children who should be particularly helped are those with learning difficulties. Children who have the ingredients of delinquency, children who have the ingredients of personal problems and personal difficulties, are known to every teacher. It seems to me that perhaps our education system, to which I really do pay tribute having visited a number of schools in the last year, nevertheless should have an administrative structure by which the most difficult children, those showing signs of real problems, those showing signs of delinquency, should be helped.
If a child is in very real difficulties and nothing is done about him and he ultimately comes before the juvenile court, he steps straight into the penal system, and in that system there is a ladder. First he appears before the court; perhaps a supervision order is made, and often a custodial, or care, order is made. The child then mixes in custodial care, away from his home and family that he loves; maybe they were not very good to him, but he loves them just the same. He may then go into a community school with education, then graduate to borstal and from there go to prison. The figures show that to be so.
265 Should we not try to stop children from going into custodial care? I submit that preventive work is far better than cure, particularly in this instance when the cure does not work. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Security together to work for a formula and strategy within the schools so that help may be given before the crash comes? If one sees a difficult child exhibiting real problems, one may visit the home and take the parents into partnership; in the home, if they are too fearful of coming to the school, as many of them are, or at the school, and they can be offered a choice. One can offer to do alt one can to assist the child at home, or give assistance in a day centre (many of which are now being set up) or, if life is impossible, to offer the choice perhaps of a boarding school. It is then the parents' choice, and the child and parents should be involved. I can say from experience that I have never known a parent to refuse help; they have been only too glad to have it.
Consider the reverse of the coin. If the child appears before the court and he enters the penal system by order of the magistrates, one has then lost the help of the parents—because they are feeling inadequate, or guilty or that their responsibility has been taken from them—and if the parents have to appear before the court, they are diminished. It should be possible for the two ministries to work together for a new scheme and structure. I am well aware that in our schools a number of "disruptive" units have been set up and that many teachers are doing an excellent job, but there is not a formalised structure.
I would draw the attention of the House to the report of the Barclay Committee, a working party on the role and task of social workers, under its chairman, Mr. Peter Barclay, who is chairman of the National Council of Social Service. The committee has produced an astonishingly good report. We do not agree with all of it, but the committee has done a great service to the country. I will quote only one passage from the report:There is no generally established tradition of collaborative effort between social work and other services. … The Association of Chief Education Social Workers suggested to us that the existence side by side of two social work services for children was anomalous and inefficient, and that these services should be concentrated within education departments".The committee, however, did not agree with that, feeling that the social services offered a family service, but added:The National Union of Teachers proposed joint liaison committees between education and social services".I return to the question of custodial care. In The Times on Tuesday, 11th May, the chairman of the Council of Barnardo's, Gillian Wagner, wrote:The first resort should be prevention".And of Barnardo's she wrote:We do not pretend that … Barnardo's … can offer a panacea, but we know that the work we do can go a long way towards keeping would-be young offenders out of the courts altogether. … This, surely is the right way ahead".Many social workers are working towards that and many are doing a good job. Nevertheless, there is not a formalised structure and I plead with the two Secretaries of State to take hold of this real difficulty of the differences between the two services.
266 I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for his speech, and I wanted to close my remarks on the same note, but my effort will be very inadequate compared with his outstanding speech. During the 1930s I lived and worked in the slums of Birmingham. The right reverend Prelate will remember the back-to-back houses and the filth, poverty and unemployment. Yet the number of children in care and appearing before the courts was minute compared with today's. One can never condone poverty and had conditions, but one diminishes children if one always makes an excuse of their circumstances, and with that in mind I would quote one case, that of a boy who "lived it up" at a hotel for a week. He pinched a Balliol tie and then pinched a Balliol suitcase, and had the bill sent to me. I somehow knew who it was and I contrived to meet him. When I told him, "I think it was you and it was your bill", he replied, "Of course it was, but I had a very difficult background and difficult home circumstances". I said, "Did you know it was wrong to do it?" and he replied, "Of course, but my background and circumstances were so difficult".
We diminish children and young people if we do not, despite all the difficulties, stand for moral values. I therefore conclude by saying that religions have laid down values and standards and have pointed out principles for the guidance of human life, and therefore I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his maiden speech.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I wish at the outset to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on a magnificent maiden speech. I was relieved to hear that practically everything he said confirmed what I have believed for many years, only he said it in a far more efficient and easy to understand way. I was particularly glad when he emphasised the importance of recognising the difference between good and bad, something which seems to escape the notice of so many psychological reformers these days.
I was particularly interested to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, on the question of delinquency, which is a very real problem in our society today. I have the firm feeling that one of the major causes of it is a preliminary sense of insecurity in the home. One of the greatest providers of security for a young child is love, love of the parents for the child and love of the child for its parents. Young people who are about to be parents, about to produce children, should take a responsible attitude towards the matter, and realise what their duties towards their children are going to be.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, spoke of the Swedish attainment of equal height among its children. I do not think that there is a great deal in that. I am 6ft. 2in, but nearing the end of my life, and looking back, I realise that I have not achieved a great deal, and I can look around the House now and see many to whom I could give several inches who have achieved a great deal more in about half the period. So I do not think that there is a great deal in that particular point.
The noble Lord also stressed considerably the Swedish attitude towards bodily health. But of course that has always been one of their manias. I should be 267 one of the last to say that physical health is unimportant in attending to children. Of course, it is important. But those who campaign so energetically for free milk are a little apt not to realise that physical health is far less important than mental health.
The family background is of the greatest importance. A child should be able to trust its parents and should be able to go to them for any information or protection that it might need. That is security, and a child must have security, or else when it goes out into the world by itself it will go wrong.
Education in true values—that is to say, good and bad, as the right reverend Prelate expressed it—begins at home; there is no doubt about that. Children cannot pick it up at school. It begins at home, and it is the duty of the parents to give that education from the word go. The trouble today is that so many parents do not themselves have a great deal of sense of the difference, and therefore they cannot pass it on to their children. But I believe that with a little guidance young married couples could be shown that that is one of the most important things that they must do.
One of the things that are most important in a child's life is that he must be able to feel that his parents are there for him to depend upon. It is absolutely fatal for a child to come home from school to find both his parents out. Parents should not both have whole-time work at the same time. I do not think that one can ever achieve that situation by any form of legislation, but it should be one of the most important points to emphasise to young prospective parents.
Finally, I wish to say a few words about broken homes. They do of course have fatal results, and it is true that divorce is very easy today. Young things get married at a very early age, before they have had any experience of life or of the problems which marriage involves, and the result is that so often it ends up in a smash. I think that something could be done in the way of education councils to give young people some form of coaching in what they really must learn to face if they are going to marry. I do not say that it will always work; human nature being what it is, naturally it will not. But it is an important point, and I think that every one of your Lordships will agree that marriage is more than just an experiement; it is something that should last for life.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I, too, should like to express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters which are of such importance to our country and to our children. I should also like to congratulate my brother bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Biship of Exeter on his splendid maiden speech, and to say how very much I welcomed what he actually said. As a bishop I spend a good deal of time during my pastoral visits to parishes in visiting families in their homes, children and teachers in schools, people in their places of work, and clubs for young people. Not infrequently when on those visits and walking through the parish late in the afternoon I come upon groups of children trying to amuse themselves while waiting to be let in to their homes.
When I talk to the parents and teachers—and those 268 who come to speak to me are not necessarily Anglicans, or Christians, or of any religion—I have noticed that so often they do not speak to me about some physical or material problem which they are encountering, though they may have grave ones to face. Again and again they speak to me about the difficulty that they experience because of the climate of opinion in which they have to try to bring up their children, or teach the children, in the case of teachers in schools.
Diminishing resources for education, unemployment as a prospect for many young people on leaving school, inadequate housing, lack of space and resources for leisure, the effects of easier divorce (to which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has just referred) all serve to intensify the difficulties and to make them more acute. But—and this is why I was so glad to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter said—behind them lies the climate of opinion which presses upon us all, but particularly upon parents, teachers and others responsible for the upbringing and care of children. I want to develop a little of what the right reverend Prelate said in his speech about these pressures upon us.
Great stress has been laid in recent times upon the freedom and rights of the individual. No one, least of all a Christian, should want to question this. But that freedom must be exercised with responsibility and with a willingness to accept the consequences of one's actions and decisions. Exercising that responsibility is an essential part of bringing up children, but just as important is helping the children themselves to learn to be responsible. However, learning to be responsible ourselves and helping our children to be responsible is something which is unfashionable today.
I should like to pick up a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, made a few moments ago in talking about responsibility. She referred to not bringing young offenders into the penal system. A week or so ago I spent some time at one of our largest police stations in London meeting those who run there the juvenile bureau, which is a means by which children can be dealt with without being brought into the system. I was greatly encouraged by the results of which I was told and by the magnificent work through which those in charge were succeeding in bringing some responsibility not merely to children, but to parents, too.
As I say, we live in an age in which the general attitude is that a person must be free to do what he or she wants, but that he or she must be freed from the consequences. One phrase of T. S. Eliot haunts me continually. He speaks of those whoConstantly try to escapeFrom the darkness outside and withinBy dreaming of systems so perfectThat no one will need to he good".I believe that in the kind of debate we are having today we need to remember that no system will ever make us good. This is why I am speaking about the climate of opinion: because I believe that in all our planning legislation and administration we have to take into account the effect that the climate of opinion is going to have on the way it will actually operate, the way it will either foster that climate of opinion or help to correct it.
That leads me to my second point, which is that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter has said, we live in a climate of relativism—that particularly 269 insidious and false idea that one selects values or moral positions as if selecting goods in a supermarket. I am not going to develop that point because my brother Bishop has already spoken about it. I would, however, just agree with him that the Church is not exempt from this charge. We have all been affected by what is called "situation ethics", in which moral norms are minimised or abandoned and the individual becomes judge in his own cause.
Thirdly, I should like to mention that we live in fact under the pressures of desires for immediate results, for getting things quickly and without cost. It is one of the things that we suffer from as a result of living in a consumer society; and I believe that advertising has a very powerful effect in giving us wrong values and in expecting us to get things quickly and without cost. This has the effect of putting a premium on the value of material objects to satisfy human desires. No one would wish to decry the immense increase in physical living standards, and I would endorse all that has been said earlier in this House about that. But man does not live by bread alone, and there are human needs that cannot be met by material things and which cannot be bought quickly and without cost. We do not see advertisements to enable us to acquire fidelity, integrity or honesty, partly because these qualities are not for sale but partly because they cannot be acquired in a moment and they need time to grow. I believe that one of the problems we face today is living under this pressure of wanting instant results.
The last point I want to make is that we live in a climate where equality is equated with identity; in other words, that if people are to be regarded as equal they must be regarded as being the same. This leads to a neglect of the proper and distinctive roles that individuals have; and when you minimise those distinctive roles you are reducing the possibilities of co-operation. Furthermore, if everybody regards everybody else as able to do the same things, then nobody in fact takes responsibility for anything. I believe we need to recover the distinctive roles of teachers, of parents and of social workers, and only when we have recognised that there are distinctive roles which are all equal in terms of their contribution to solving the whole problem will we get the kind of co-operation which we seek.
I want to make one last point, as I see time is pressing on, which is this. I believe that there is a case for some form of public recognition by the Government of the needs of the family at the present time. As has been said, the family is under fire. Many people are concerned in one way or another with the family, but I believe we need some public recognition of the fact that the family is the fundamental unit—not necessarily the nuclear family of western type, but "the family", and all that is meant by that. I believe we need some means by which all those who are concerned with the family in one form or another—planners, teachers, those concerned with housing—can in fact be encouraged to take the family into account when they are making their decisions in a way which I do not believe happens at the present time.
Whether the way is perhaps to have a Minister of the Family, as some people have suggested, or perhaps a Royal Commission on the Family, I do not know. 270 What I do feel very strongly is that there is a need on the part of Her Majesty's Government to recognise the needs of the family and in a public way, and through that recognition, to give an impetus to the co-operation between all those excellent bodies and authorities which are in one way or another concerned with the family. I believe it will do much to encourage parents and teachers and those who are most directly and daily concerned with children.
§ 6.46 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, I am very lucky indeed to find myself speaking after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, with whom I so very much agree, and after listening to the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter; and I must thank the noble Baroness for giving me a chance to speak in this debate. The reason I am speaking is because on one occasion I found myself running a youth club, in a state of complete ignorance as to how I ought to be doing it, but with one great advantage—that I knew I knew nothing. That is a very valuable point from which to start. I therefore listened to people.
It was a children's boat club on the water, and when it started as a club there were 30 children. I started off by listening to the children, who were my customers. Unless I ran the thing the way they wanted, they were not going to turn up. I had no way of compelling them to turn up; I had no way of making sure that they ever turned up again. They came because they wanted to come. Then I had to listen to the parents. Boating is a dangerous occupation; the parents knew it; and unless I did things the way the parents wanted, they were not going to let the children turn up. So I had to listen to them. Then I had to listen to the Inner London Education Authority, who provided quite a proportion of our cash. Sometimes I disagreed with them, but mostly I thought they talked sense. I also had to listen to the club committee.
Between them I slowly, I think, gathered wisdom. I certainly gathered members. I ran that club personally for six years before handing it over to others to run; and that possibly my opinions were right I gathered from the fact that my membership during the time I ran it rose from 30 up to 1,650. I had some 4,000 children through my hands; they put in 7,000 attendances, and we never had an accident.
Some things I thought I discovered from all of that. Your Lordships may disagree with me, but these were my conclusions and I give them to the House. When a child is born he has no fear. He does not need fear; his parents do absolutely everything for him. A very young child can be taught to swim in deep water because he is convinced that his parents will look after him; and, in the same way, a small child in front of a fire, if he is not watched, seeing the nice bright flames will crawl straight into them. He has no fear. When he starts to fear, that is the beginning of growing up. It is the start of his feeling that he has to do something for himself. At that moment he is aware that he has to do something for himself, and he is also aware of large forces outside his powers which he is unable to cope with and from which he must be protected.
Such a child needs two things—a safe area and a 271 protection round it. He wants a high, thick, solid curtain wall enclosing a safe area; and not only high, thick and solid but it must be visible, plainly visible, to him. What the child needs at that stage is certainties, certainties in the protection that surrounds him. This is not a time for giving the child ifs, buts and maybes; it is a time to give "Yes" and "No". Also inside that curtain wall the child needs an area of liberty, of freedom, where he can get on with the important business of building himself. Child's play is of enormous importance—and not merely child's play, but child's play of a kind that gives a child confidence and initiative, aware that he is his own captain. One of the advantages of my boat club was that I could send small captains out in all directions, each of them confident that he could handle his own little boat, confident inside a circle of regulations which kept the children safe but within that general framework, gave them the freedom to be their own captains.
That is enormously important. I do not think we are doing it enough. I think that the mistakes that we are making now are, first, that the protective curtain wall is not high enough, not strong enough, and above all, it is not visible enough. The child cannot see the protection around him. The other mistake, I think, is not to give them sufficient room for personal initiative inside those curtain walls and in the safe area. If we do not give them that room for personal initiative, we will do what is so often done with small baby animals brought in from the wild. They have been put in a protective cage and fed and then, at some moment when they are grown up, the person who has nurtured them opens the cage and expects them to go out and become wild animals. They cannot, they have never learned how.
Those, I believe, are the two mistakes that we are making: the curtain wall, the protection of parents, of schools and everything else is not "Yes" and "No" enough, not solid enough, not visible enough; and the area inside the curtain wall must he a safe area where the child must grow himself up. That is really what he has to do. We are not giving the children of our land enough of this freedom of initiative. If I could say nothing else in this debate—and I will leave the rest of the debate to others who know far more than I —then those are the two messages which I would give the House.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord Vaux of Harrowden
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Exeter on an excellent and most moving speech. I know that we all look forward to hearing him many times. Next, I must thank the noble Baroness for initiating the debate and, at the same time, I must apologise to the noble Baroness, to the Minister and to Members of the House because I am already "under the whip" and I am afraid that immediately after I conclude I must run for I have a most important engagement.
I am concerned about the out-of-school play and recreation of children and young people and the problems which face the modern generation of parents. All generations have faced problems in bringing up their 272 children and have looked for solutions. We have to find solutions for the problems which parents face today. The changes which have taken place in our country over the past 50 years and the accelerating pace of social and technological change have created severe difficulties for parents, changes beyond the scope of ordinary individuals to cope with, without the help of outside forces.
The results of changes in work patterns, in the environment, in leisure patterns, in education and in the home can be seen on the streets of our inner cities, in the rising tide of vandalism and delinquency, and in the decreasing motivation of children in our schools. Like so many of our problems, the reasons for this are so numerous and varied that there is no one simple solution, no universal panacea to solve all our ills. But we can take one small but very significant step towards providing part of the solution for the difficulties facing parents today. That is to provide real play opportunities for our children in their leisure time.
The most effective way of achieving effective change is through the mobilisation of parents and other adults in the organisation, management and provision of play facilities. We must encourage active involvement by parents in the out-of-school lives of their children. Not only will this help to create play opportunities for children but it will encourage participation in the community. Furthermore, it is a vital element in parents' communication with their children, and visible proof of their caring. Finally, it will help create a climate in which children are held to be important. Parents cannot do it on their own. The complexity of modern society means they need help and we need to create a real partnership between parents, the voluntary sector and the state in all its manifestations. We must make effective use of all our resources: use of material resources by opening up our schools, playing fields, community buildings, sports halls and transport systems for use by children; use of the resources of people by helping them to use their time, skill and effort in the most effective way. To help people do this they must have the tools to do the job. That means providing them with information and on-the-spot advice.
Traditionally, advisory services have been provided by central and local government, but today it is becoming increasingly apparent that this type of service can be more effectively carried out by the voluntary sector. Central and local government recognise the advisory role as important—the Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Sports Council, the Rural Community Council all have strong advisory functions and Government support. The out-of-school play and recreation needs of children do not receive recognition to the same extent. Only paltry finance is provided for the advisory role of organisations concerned with children's play. What is needed is to provide the voluntary sector with the comparatively small amount of funding necessary to enable them to provide this service, so that they can make the most of developing the greatest use of our most untapped resource, which is people.
My Lords, it is only through the linking together of Government and people that we can provide play opportunities for children. The voluntary organisation is the cement which links these two parts together. 273 If only we can come to recognise this, and take the necessary action, one problem that faces parents will be greatly eased. And we will have happier and healthier children—both in body and mind—and that surely must be something we are all striving for. It cannot be said too often that on the way children grow up and develop our future depends.
§ 6.59 p.m.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to join other noble Lords in contratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for initiating this debate this afternoon, particularly because her late husband, with whom I had the privilege of serving in the Diplomatic Service, was a person of warm and sensitive personality and deep concern with human problems—qualities which the noble Baroness, as all noble Lords will agree, shares to a great extent. It was the greatest privilege to serve with the late husband of the noble Baroness.
Looking around us today, we see a sordid catalogue of evils which affect so many of our children. This is particularly apparent to someone like myself who has served for so many years abroad. I must not exaggerate, but we find our children now confronted with the evils of drug-taking, excessive drinking, permissive sex and so on. Such evils are particularly harmful to a class of person in whom I have been interested over many years—and I speak of those overseas students who come to Britain. What terrible things I have seen and heard! Only the other day, for example, I heard of a young student who came from a remote part of Africa who, completely unused to drugs, was persuaded to take LSD. Shortly after that, he jumped out of a window thinking that he was a bird. That is not an isolated example.
If—as happens sometimes—these students are nurtured in a religious background, whether Christianity or Islam, and if such students are unable to resist the temptations that they see around them, how great their fall from grace; how terrible their inner torments of conscience!
I should like to touch on only one aspect of this problem this evening. It is one of great importance to most of us—at any rate, to those who are parents—and it is of particular interest and importance to the parents of Moslem children. I refer to the unfortunate effects of certain types of sex education in our schools. This matter was raised in a Question in another place on 16th March in which the Minister was asked whether parents who objected to such education had a right to withdraw their children from such classes. The Minister, in his reply, indicated that the policy of the Government was to encourage the fullest co-operation between the education authorities and parents in the choice of material used. He also indicated—and this is very important—that some of the material available in our schools was "repulsive". He also said that some of this material had been withdrawn.
What he did not say—and this is a very important point—was that there was a statutory right for parents to withdraw their children from such classes. We must of course be grateful to the Minister for withdrawing some of this material—and I will not, of course, describe it to your Lordships—but it is extreme and repulsive. It is not so much the material itself that 274 so many of us would find repulsive; it is the moral teaching behind it: the kind of teaching which is enshrined in a recent book designed for teenagers called, Make It Happy—What Sex is All About, in which not only is free love encouraged, but also various horrible deviant forms of sexuality.
The best criticism that I have ever come across of the so-called permissive approach to education was contained in a recent number of the Family Bulletin, and if your Lordships will forgive me, I will quote it to you:Under the guise of scientific impartiality, the progressives are seeking to impose a one-sided ideology on our educational system. This ideology, which has no place for self-discipline and little enough for self-respect, is based upon a psychological fallacy. Even the facts of life on which it claims to rest are not the same as the reality. It is not a case of replacing the joys of sex with joyless sex; it is a case of restoring a sense of proportion to the sex debate and, above all, emphasising that only by relating sex to the higher emotions and to a moral ideal can it yield its full satisfaction, its true meaning and even its rapture".I much regret that to many of us the so-called "progressives" are not preaching moral progress but moral retrogression.
Here I should like to say how strongly those Moslem parents who have children here feel about such education. In a debate in your Lordships' House on 26th March, I dwelt on the teaching of Islam with its emphasis on discipline, dignity, decorum and decency. One finds the most amazing examples of such discipline in young Moslem children. I have seen them sit for hours in their father's assemblies, silent and motionless. I have seen young children running shops; I have seen children of 10 or 11 entertaining foreigners on behalf of their fathers. Such children enjoy a degree of firm discipline coupled with deep warmth which I fear few of us in the West give to our children.
I am sure that we must congratulate the Inner London Education Authority on providing guidelines for Moslem parents, dealing with such subjects as nudity, providing special places for children to change, and so on. Also—an important point—providing Moslem parents with the right to withdraw their children from sex education. But that right, as I understand it—and I should be grateful for clarification from the Minister—applies to Moslem children only.
Perhaps I may conclude by giving two quotations from the Koran which are particularly relevant:Just as a bird lowers its wings in the presence of its elders, so must children show respect to their parents".Secondly, referring to the parents themselves:And when they have reached the age of puberty, let your children still ask your leave as their elders do".I join with many others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on his splendid maiden speech. Since he has so rightly ended on a Christian note, let me quote to you from Psalm 127:Lo, children and the fruit of the womb: are an heritage and a gift that cometh of the Lord".
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I, too should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech and to thank my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for introducing this debate. There have been some really quite philosophical contributions to the debate. I would say that my speech is going to have a more 275 practical flavour. Mrs. Thatcher has claimed that the Conservative Party is the party of the family. Much was made of this before the 1979 election. Mr. Patrick Jenkin, then shadow spokesman for Health and Social Security, proposed a family council which would eventually produce family impact statements. Since the election we have had no word of family councils nor of family impact statements. What has happened? Because of Government policies families are suffering more than at any time since the war.
I would ask your Lordships to look at family income support policies. The tax burden has shifted so that more households on low incomes are brought into the income tax system and the tax load has increased fastest for taxpayers responsible for children. The proportion of income paid in tax and national insurance by families with dependent children has risen by more than three times as much as for a childless couple over the last 20 years. A childless couple on three-quarters average earnings have seen an increase of 122 per cent., but for a couple with two children the increase is staggering—381.8 per cent. If you take the last three years, the increase was 1.3 per cent. for the childless couple, but 11.6 per cent. for the couple with two children.
Under the famous tax cuts in Chancellor Howe's first budget only £8 million out of a total of £4,600 million tax cuts went specifically to families by way of an increase in the addition to child benefit paid to single parents. Most of that £4,600 million helped those with incomes of £10,000 a year and above. Child benefit, brought in by the Labour Government—and I am all in favour of it as a means whereby the money is directed to the child—is the only means the Government have of boosting the incomes of working families. All families need it, but particularly it is the best way of helping low-paid families, as it forms a larger proportion of their income. There was no increase in November 1979. The increase of 75p in November 1980 represented a cut in real terms of 40p, since it should have gone up by £1.15 to keep pace with inflation; and the 50p increase last November has not begun to catch up to recover the position.
Patrick Jenkin explained in 1977 why his party was committed to child benefit. He said:First, because that is the way to restore the position of families. Secondly, it is the best way to ease the poverty trap. Thirdly, it is the best way to help poor families in work. … Fourthly, it is the best way to reduce the nonsense of people being much better off out of work. Fifthly, it is the best way of reducing the dependence of families on means-tested benefits".But there was a complete turn-about since the Tories came to Office. They think it is an expensive way of helping families and that it is better to increase family income supplement and the child benefit premium for single parents. But an increase in that premium helps only about 4 per cent. of poor families in work—and if the single parent has two children, as more than half of them do, he or she is doing worse than if the real value of the benefit had been restored, as the premium goes to the first child only. It is a pity that the Government have forgotten what they said in Opposition—that the cost of higher child benefit should be accounted for in the same way as a reduction in direct personal taxation and not as public expenditure at all.
276 I have dwelt on this because money, or the lack of it, is one of the reasons why families are having increasing difficulties in bringing up their children. Poor housing, inadequate space for play, lack of playthings and books, clothes and shoes can grind down even the most loving parent. I am not denying for a minute that there are a lot of marvellous, happy families who are poor, but poverty takes a lot of getting over. A Government committed to the family and to the child, as this one said they were, should do something to redress the balance. My suggestion is that there should be a large increase in child benefit as the best way. Child benefits are the most cost-effective way for the Government to boost child support. One way to pay for this would be to abolish the married man's tax allowance which subsidises all married men to the tune of £4.44 a week. That could be used to put £3 per week on child benefit and still leave nearly £1¼ billion to raise the tax thresholds for all taxpayers.
But I fear that the Tories really do believe that woman's place is in the home. To quote Mr. Patrick Jenkin again, he said that family life was changing as a result of the number of married women working, and implied that this was not good. He said:There is an elaborate machinery to ensure that women have equal opportunity, equal pay and equal rights; but I think we ought to stop and ask: where does this leave the family?He suggested greater tax incentives to encourage mothers to stay at home looking after the children. Then:The pressures on young wives to go out to work devalues motherhood itself. Parenthood is a very skilled task and it must be our aim to restore it to the place of honour it deserves".That is what he said. Well, keeping women at home also keeps them off the labour market, which is useful in times of high unemployment; but if married women did not go out to work the number of families living in poverty would increase four-fold. I believe that the achievement of women's equality and the elimination of family poverty are compatible goals.
What helps young parents most is some provision outside the home for the pre-school child. The chairman of the committee which launched the Headstart programme in the United States argued:There is considerable evidence that the early years of childhood are a most critical point in the poverty cycle. During these years the creation of learning patterns, emotional development and the formation of individual expectations and aspirations takes place at a very rapid pace. For the child of poverty there are clearly observable deficiencies in these processes which lay the foundation for a pattern of failure and thus a pattern of poverty throughout the child's entire life".What is being done here to help the pre-school child, and particularly the child of poverty? The provision is very patchy and inadequate. Mrs. Thatcher in her 1972 White Paper, Framework for Expansion, said that in order to reduce inequality she made her aim for attendance at nursery schools 50 per cent. of three-year-olds, and 90 per cent. of four-year-olds. This aim was to have been achieved by 1981. What had happened by 1981? Twenty-eight per cent. of three-year-olds and 69 per cent. of four-year-olds were in maintained nurseries and primary schools—woefully below target. The Labour authorities have a much better record in this than the Tory ones. Every Labour London borough has over 54 per cent. of its three and four-year-olds in nursery or infant classes; 277 of the 14 Tory boroughs, 10 are below that figure, with Sutton at 16 per cent. winning the booby prize. Looking at the Tory counties, the picture is similar. Gloucestershire makes no provision at all; Dorset has no full-time pupils; Kent has five and Norfolk nine. And it is not that they make it up in part-time provision, either.
There is no doubt that children do benefit from this provision, and recent research in Oxfordshire has shown that the children who had had nursery provision were likely to do much better when they got to their primary school: they would engage in more challenging play, and they chose to spend more time than those who had been to play groups on formal education activities such as writing, looking at books and playing number and educational games.
But it is not only nursery provision that is needed. The working parent, and particularly the single working parent, needs much more. The estimated number of single parents in 1980 was 920,000, and they were bringing up over 1½ million children. Surely we want them to have the opportunity to work and provide for their families. The increasing number of children experiencing short or long periods of care and the increase in juvenile delinquency should frighten us into providing more and better facilities for those who cannot cope with their children, for whatever reason, or those who need to work to bring the family income up to a reasonable level. In 1980 there were only about 50,000 children in full-time day care. Registered or unregistered child minders accounted for another 120,000 or so, but almost certainly less than 5 per cent. of the children under five.
There are other ways than day nurseries or child minders to cope with the problem. The Americans have made several experiments. They have started "family day care"—working-class women taking about six children into their own homes. Then there is the "follow through" programme, which is a follow up of the "headstart" programme, involving parents and using schools. There is the extended school day, with schools opening early and closing late. This has already been mentioned by, I think, my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs. Activities are organised so that the working mother can do a full day's work and the buildings and equipment at the schools are made use of for more than a seven-hour school day. So there are other possibilities, and all very much cheaper to work and to run than keeping a child in residential care at a cost of £188 per week at an observation and assessment centre, or £175 per week at a community home with education.
Whatever the provision, and whoever provides it, there should be far more co-ordination and cooperation between the different agencies—DHSS, DES and Home Office and, similarly, at local authority and local health service level. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has mentioned this point so I shall not enlarge upon it, but I should just like to endorse what she said. But I should like to ask the Government what progress has been made as a result of Section 26 of the 1980 Education Act, which allowed local authority teachers to work in day nurseries. Is there much co-operation and are many authorities making use of the possibility?
Born to Fail is a pamphlet based on the National 278 Child Development Study, which is following the progress of all children born in the United Kingdom in one week in March, 1958. The latest information is on the children at 11. The comparisons show, accurately and reliably, the conditions in which children are growing up today. The disadvantaged children are those in low income families with poor housing, and either in big families or with only one parent. The difficulties which the parents of these children have are colossal, and the use that they make of the various services bears witness to this.
Among all families with children, the families of the relatively small disadvantaged group—one in 16—accounted for two-fifths of all those who called on the social and probation services. Families of the large ordinary group—two out of three of all children—accounted for one-sixth of callers on the same services. Thus a reduction in the numbers of disadvantaged could have a great impact on the social services. Even if 2 per cent. of children were no longer in the disadvantaged group, we could expect a reduction of 11 and 14 per cent. in the number of calls on the probation and social services. Of course, the health service is used very much more by the disadvantaged group, too.
Accidents are another problem. There are 140,000 children admitted to hospital as a result of accidents each year, and 2 million attend accident and emergency departments each year—one-third of all attendances. In 1980, 360 children under 14 were killed on the road and 9,088 suffered serious injuries. There are many accidents in the home—burns, scalds, poisoning. Think of the cost of all this, not least in human misery. Of course, accidents in the home are often caused by bad housing. Where the housing is bad, they are more likely to suffer accidents because of overcrowding and lack of space, than are the more fortunate group. If you are in a home with no hot water, the kettle has to be boiled more often and the chances of knocking it over or getting scalded from the steam are that much greater.
This brings me to housing. Bad housing and inadequate space not only restrict the child's opportunity for investigation and exploration, for secure but independent play, but also put extra strain on other members of the family, with consequent effects on their attitudes and behaviour to each other. In Born to Fail—the book to which I referred—one in six of the disadvantaged children were, at age 11, living in a family without the use of a hot water supply; one in six without a bathroom and one in four without an indoor lavatory. More than 90 per cent. of the disadvantaged shared a bedroom, compared with less than half of the ordinary group; over half the disadvantaged shared a bed and, worse, one in 22 of them both shared and wet their bed—this at age 11. Think, my Lords, of the danger of cross-infection, of disturbed sleep and the effect on general health and ability to cope.
Not only will the disadvantaged have far worse conditions at home, but their opportunities for play and leisure activities are far less. As the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, spoke of this, I shall not enlarge upon it. But I should like to ask: Is it fair, is it wise, to be so mean on children's play and recreation? The National Playing Fields Association and Fair Play for Children received £100,000 in 1981–82, whereas the Sports Council, 279 whose work is primarily concerned with adult leisure, received £21 million. It seems out of proportion. And pennies spent on children in this way could save pounds on making good vandals' work and on borstal and detention centre places.
I hope I have shown that the Conservative Party has not proved itself to be the party of the family. Indeed, many families, and therefore children, are in very dire need and, certainly, worse off than they were three years ago. But the Government's attitude, I fear, is that problems which beset all families must be solved individually, rather than collectively. The idea is embedded in their official thinking. Self-help is part of their ideology. Increased privatisation, at the expense of collective provision, underlines the economic strategy which is threatening the very existence of the health service, the social security system and municipal housing. The same approach applied to the family is neglectful and restrictive for all but the best-off, and indeed conflicts with individual choice.
Anthropologists have talked of the difference between being poor and being part of a culture of poverty. In the squatter cities of Peru, Turkey, Athens, Brazil and India there are millions of poor, but little sign of a culture of poverty. I fear very much that, in some of our inner cities, we have slums of despair rather than of hope and that in those cities we have distinctive signs of a culture of poverty, which I think is both very worrying and very dangerous.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I have a good deal of material to get through in the next 25 minutes or so and, therefore, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I proceed rather more quickly than I normally would. I am, of course, delighted to have been given the opportunity to take part in this debate this afternoon, particularly because that debate has been enhanced by the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, which I found both stimulating and inspiring.
Our children are our future, and it is a foolish and a heartless society which does not do all it can to give children a happy childhood and to prepare them properly for adulthood. If children are not given a good start in life, how can we expect them to grow up to live useful lives and to make a worthwhile contribution to society? The family lies at the core of the way we bring up our children. There is no doubt in my mind that the love, security and values which a family can give to a child provide the very best foundation for life.
Of course, we should not be too starry-eyed about family life. When people are living closely together, there will sometimes be friction and disagreements. But no one has yet devised a better way to bring up children, nor are they likely to. And, of course, the very closeness of relationships in a family helps to develop important qualities of consideration and toleration for others. I am not one of those who foresee the imminent collapse of the family as the cornerstone of our society. But it is subject to increasing pressure and change. Some of those changes certainly complicate the job of being a parent. Nobody doubts that it is a much harder task to bring up children 280 on your own, for example, than in partnership with your husband or wife.
There are also factors in society outside the family which complicate the task of parents, and of people such as teachers who are concerned with the upbringing of children and youngsters. We live in a society where serious crime is on the increase, and where authority commands far less respect than it used to. We also have greater family mobility, so that families with children can be isolated from their extended family. But, again, we should not allow ourselves to be persuaded that all the changes in society are for the worse. Far from it. Although the economy has been going through a difficult patch, we should not forget that the average family is much better off now than it was, say, 20 years ago. We have also seen the development of a whole range of community groups which help people with common needs to join together in meeting them. A number of these are of value to families with children. The Government believe that these groups perform a most useful role and we do all we can to encourage them.
I know that parents, and especially lone parents, often face problems in making arrangements for their children after school hours and during school holidays. This point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I welcome the efforts which parents have made in many areas to set up imaginative local schemes to provide children with somewhere to go which will be safe and welcoming. Schemes of this kind, which can draw on local community resources, seem to me to offer the most imaginative and constructive means of helping the so-called "latch-key" children. Children need an attractive alternative to the seductive temptations and dangers of the streets. That is why I am pleased to announce that the Department of Health and Social Security is to make a grant of £30,000 a year for the next three years to the National Out of School Alliance to help with their work of encouraging local community and self-help projects.
Another trend which I welcome is the growing recognition by the professions which work with children of the need to involve parents in the services, to work in a way which helps parents to feel more competent and assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities for the welfare and upbringing of their children. The Government do all they can to encourage this trend. The Education Act 1981, which the Government hope to bring into force in the 1982–83 school year, places health authorities under a duty to inform education authorities if they think any young children may have special educational needs. They must, however, discuss this opinion with parents before informing the education authority. They must also tell parents about any voluntary organisation which they think could give them help or assistance.
May I now turn to some of the specific points which have been raised in the debate this afternoon. I shall cover as many as I can, and those which I fail to deal with, for whatever reason, I undertake to deal with afterwards in correspondence. First, may I touch upon the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, when she opened the debate and referred to the question of child benefit, which was in the minds of a number of your Lordships. In 1982–83, we shall be 281 spending about £3,800 million on child benefit for 13 million children in 7 million families. In November, child benefit goes up by 60p. to £5.85 a week for each child, and one-parent benefit goes up by 35p. to £3.65 a week. This means that they will maintain their value in real terms.
While on that topic, may I deal with a related matter which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, in connection with the married man's allowance. There has been a suggestion about converting that allowance into a more generous child benefit. This was one of the subjects touched upon in the recent Green Paper on this matter. The Government are still considering the various possibilities mentioned in that Green Paper and a substantial number of comments have been made since its publication. This will be primarily a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Naturally I cannot anticipate anything which he may want to announce in a future Budget, but I can say that the matters to which the noble Baroness referred are being considered.
If I may return again to her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the question of school curricula. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said:I believe that the most promising basis for future developments will be a curriculum which will provide a broad programme of general education but with a practical slant and will develop young people's personal attributes, such as a sense of responsibility and the capacity for independent work, and, finally, help them to discover what kind of job they might expect to tackle with success".The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also referred to youth unemployment. Again this is an area in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is particularly active. The Government are determined to tackle youth unemployment and to provide young people with as comprehensive a range of opportunities as possible to help them find suitable permanent jobs. On 15th December of last year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced the Government's plans to introduce a new training scheme for the young unemployed which would provide courses lasting a full year from 1983—also that the quality of the Youth Opportunities Programme provision would be developed towards the new scheme during 1982–83.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also asked me about lead in petrol. The Government have announced their intention greatly to reduce the level of lead in petrol in the next few years. I hope that will go some way towards satisfying the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness and, indeed, other speakers raised the question of the preparations which ought to be made for parenthood. I certainly agree that such preparation is important. Much valuable work is already going on in schools and in ante-natal clinics and by health visitors and voluntary groups—not least the Church. All of us who have been married, at least in the Church of England, remember full well, I imagine, the instruction that we received from the vicar before we entered into that state. We need to build on this to ensure that all parents—fathers as well as mothers—understand how to care for their children and are able to meet their social and emotional 282 as well as their physical needs. The document on the school curriculum which the Department of Education and Science published in 1981 acknowledged the importance of preparation for parenthood. A variety of approaches can make a contribution. I hope that the project which my department is funding at the National Children's Bureau will provide some useful pointers for future initiatives.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also referred to the pupil-teacher ratio in our schools. The fact is that the number of pupils in our schools is declining and that the pupil-teacher ratio is at least being maintained at present—if not enhanced in some cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, raised a number of points in his speech. Could I refer to the Black Report which made a number of recommendations, among them the suggestion that meals in schools should be provided without charge. To provide all school meals free of charge would cost up to £1,370 million per annum, depending upon the extent to which pupils availed themselves of the facilities. Expenditure of this magnitude could not be contemplated in the present economic circumstances and would run counter to the Government's objective of eventually halving the net expenditure on the school meals service. Plans for 1982–83 assume a net expenditure of £325 million.
On the question of a non-means-tested scheme for free milk which it is suggested should be introduced—another of the Black Report recommendations—we accept that milk is an excellent source of nutrients, essential for the normal growth and well-being of infants, young children and mothers. We remain convinced of the benefits which the current welfare milk scheme brings to those most vulnerable. However, to extend the welfare milk scheme to all expectant mothers and to children under the age of five would increase its cost to at least £300 million per annum, and the noble Lord will not be surprised when I say that unfortunately the resources are not available at present.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, referred to toy libraries. I wonder whether my noble friend saw the Written Answer in the other place on Monday last of my honourable friend Mr. Rossi to a Question from Mr. Peter Bottornley—another of my honourable friends. I shall not read out that Answer. It is in Hansard and the noble Baroness can read it at her leisure.
The noble Baroness also asked me about mentally handicapped children. The majority of mentally handicapped children grow up among their own families. I should like to pay tribute to their parents whose immense efforts make this possible. Support services are essential if parents are going to be able to manage. I am glad to say that more of these services are being introduced and developed by health and local authorities and by voluntary organisations. These can provide short-term care for children—if necessary, health care and developmental programmes. There is also a growing number of self-help groups for families with a handicapped member and clubs providing recreational facilities and holidays. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, in a most valuable and thoughtful speech to which I have already referred, 283 drew attention to the problem of parents who do not properly fulfil their responsibilities towards their children. This is a very real problem which will not be easy to overcome. I believe that efforts by community groups and statutory services to involve parents in activities for their children represent one way forward.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull, made a number of important points in her speech. I am not sure that I am in a position to reply to them all, but she did in particular draw attention to the Barclay Report on the role and tasks of social workers. We are very grateful to the Barclay working party and to the National Institute for Social Work for this thorough report. Many of its broad conclusions are consistent with our policies for the development of personal social services. We will be seeking urgently comments from interested bodies and will then consider what action the Government need to take. My noble friend Lady Faithfull also suggested that there are more children in custody in this country than in any other country.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My noble friend reminds me that she was referring particularly to the EEC. I fear that my noble friend is probably correct. It is the Government's intention to reduce the number of custodial sentences made and to develop the facilities necessary for effective community-based disposal. I shall have more to say about that in a moment.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London referred to the possibility of a Minister for children or for the family. The Government's view is that the appointment of a separate Minister for such purposes would not be the best way of serving children's interest's. The main objection to establishing such a Minister is that if there was a separate Minister looking after children and families, then other agencies might well take less seriously their own responsibilities for matters affecting them. Policies for children in any field—for example, health and housing—cannot be divorced from the more general policies for these services. It is essential that they should remain the responsibility of the major departments of state concerned, although the Government recognise the need for and seek to ensure close collaboration between them in matters of shared concern. I know that this matter concerned my noble friend Lady Faithfull as well. So far as a specific Minister for children is concerned, there is also the problem of appearing to shift responsibility away from parents, relatives, neighbours and the community on to the state.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, might I remind the noble Lord the Minister that I was not referring to children, but specifically to the family? It was precisely because, as he said, policies for housing and other matters have to be divorced from the family that I want to bring them into the family. I feel that what the noble Lord is saying about the difficulties for a Minister of children not really relevant to what I suggested in my speech.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am sorry if I misunder- 284 stood the right reverend Prelate, but I think that the arguments about a Minister for the family are really very similar to those in respect of a Minister for children, and I was certainly directing my remarks at both.
The right reverend Prelate also referred to the possibility of a Royal Commission on the family. There is already a Study Commission on the family, which is an independent body established in 1978 with the support of the Leverhulme Trust. That commission has published a number of interesting papers and I would like to pay tribute to its work. If the right reverend Prelate has not seen those papers, perhaps I can arrange for copies to be sent to him.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, in a speech of rather different tone to most of those we have heard this evening (and I make no complaint of that), raised a number of questions concerning specific Government responsibility at the present time, and she called for massive increases in the provision for child benefits and other areas. If I may say so to the noble Baroness, without belabouring the point, the one important fact which became apparent to this Government but which apparently escaped the previous one was that money does not grow on trees. When we came into office we found that there were a number of claims upon resources and that resources were simply not available to meet them—very desirable though many of those claims were.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, when I asked for a massive increase in child benefits I did suggest the means of achieving that without any increase in overall expenditure.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I accept that in that specific context the noble Baroness, Lady David, was referring to the removal of the married man's tax allowance, with a possible redistribution of funds and the resources thus made available. I said earlier that that is a matter which forms part of the Green Paper proposals on which consultation is now being undertaken.
I have spoken of the importance of the family and of providing the right sort of environment and services to bring up children. With your Lordships' permission, I now wish to draw attention to some of the many positive steps which the Government have taken to achieve this. We seek to do this in a way which does not detract from the responsibilities of parents nor imposes the straitjacket of state provision upon families. The Government place great value on individual freedom, and in this context we are anxious that services should not encroach on the prerogatives of parents themselves. But there is a long and honourable history of public provision for families with children in education, health, housing and social services—as well as important financial support through the social security system.
Turning now to the question of education, the task facing schools is very difficult when links between home and school are not well developed. This Government have done much to involve parents in education. We have introduced new and improved arrangements for choice of school. There is now provision for parents to be represented as of right on school governing bodies, and local authorities and schools have to give parents information about what the schools are doing 285 and seeking to achieve. It is encouraging to see the development of a number of parent support schemes in inner city areas, sometimes with urban programme funding, which aim to build on parents' own knowledge and abilities and provide information and advice where needed.
Turning now to health services, the community-based pre-school and school health services have a key role to play in monitoring children's health and helping parents to understand how to care for their children. Health visitors visit families soon after a baby is born and give information, support and advice to parents until the child goes to school. Health visitors and community doctors keep an eye on children's development and try to ensure that vaccination and immunisation are offered at the appropriate times. On the question of handicapped children, over the last decade or so Government policy has been directed towards enabling children with special needs to live at home with their families. This can be satisfactorily achieved only if a wide range of support services are made available to families and if professionals fully recognise the vital role parents have in helping their children to reach their full potential.
Turning now to the question of children under five years of age, day provision for under-fives always provokes debate. Some people believe that the state should do much more to provide day care places. While I welcome discussion on these matters, it has to be accepted that while resources are scarce they must be used to give help to those who need it most. One of the first priorities of the statutory authorities and voluntary bodies working in this field must be to meet the needs of those families with special social or health needs for day care. Day care services are often criticised for being too diversified, but to my mind diversity has great advantages because new ideas can be tried out and services developed to meet the needs of individual communities. For example, we are beginning to recognise that traditional day nurseries are not necessarily the best form of care for young children. Increasingly, parents are becoming much more closely involved in the care of their children and day nurseries are developing into family centres to the benefit of both children and parents.
My Lords, I sec that time is running out. I have a lot more to say but I am not going to get through it all. Perhaps I might just refer to the question of delinquency, which I know was on the minds of a number of noble Lords. The level of juvenile delinquency is a major concern to the Government. The problem demands two responses: a response to the underlying causes and a response to the symptoms. Research suggests that delinquency is most likely to occur where there is parental criminality, ineffective supervision and discipline, family discord, and weak parent/child relationships—and it is therefore important to develop services to families in the way I have described so as to prevent delinquent behaviour from developing.
The Government therefore attach particular importance to the question of intermediate treatment facilities. I had intended to speak on this subject at some length but I fear time precludes me from doing that. What I hope I have demonstrated tonight is the Government's real concern to help those responsible for the care and upbringing of children and the many steps we have taken 286 to demonstrate this concern with practical action. I am grateful to many noble Lords and Ladies for putting forward a number of interesting ideas about more that we could do, and I shall undertake to look carefully at all those that fall into my area of responsibility and will pass on to my colleagues in the Government those which fall elsewhere.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I know that we have very nearly reached the end of our time, so I think I only have time to thank all those noble Lords and Ladies who have been so very good in making extremely valuable contributions to this debate. I would like to congratulate the maiden speaker that we heard. I was particularly touched by what he said about the absence of parents and the lack of nurturing. I would also like to congratulate the Minister on going at such a huge speed; I know that he was promising even more which we shall have to take for granted. I would like to thank him for what he said about the extra provision for the latchkey child. I hope what he said was true about the real value of the child benefit scheme remaining; I am not quite sure if that is true.
I would particularly like to thank my noble friend Lady David for reminding us that this was a Labour Party debate, and for representing the interests of the less privileged children in this country in such a very succinct way. As there has been a great deal of talk about the absent parent and the latchkey child, I remember that my own child got back from school about four hours ago, so I shall now beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.