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Mr. Wicks : It may well be, but I am not trying to cast aspersions on the fact that a parent--whether the father or mother--goes out to work. I am trying to prepare the ground for an argument that policy issues about work and the family and the need for family-friendly employment policies must be among the agenda issues that we should be discussing.
We can have fun with one another across the Floor of the House about where the money will come from and about spending commitments. As a Back Bencher, I can make billions of pounds of spending commitments and no one will care. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), who speaks for the Opposition on Treasury matters, is looking rather aghast --I was obviously jesting. Clearly if in the future we have to spend billions of pounds of public money on the consequences of family breakdown and family insecurity, none of us will ever be able to put into practice our social priorities. At the moment, we are spending billions of pounds not on a family policy, but on a family breakdown policy. We spend
Column 463billions because too many of our families with children are dependent on income support or even--because of low wages --on family credit.
I am not sure that a rise in the numbers on family credit is always something to boast about, but we do spend billions on it. If one makes the link--I do not see why it is so controversial, because there is now evidence--between lawlessness, disorder and the rising crime rate and economic insecurity, it means that a good proportion of our lawlessness and disorder budget is now being spent on the consequences of breakdowns of different kinds. Much of the work of social services departments and health agencies, and too much of the time and trouble taken by education authorities, will relate to some of the family change issues which we are trying to discuss sensibly today.
It is not that we have not got the money to spend, but that we are spending much at the moment on what I call a family breakdown service, or services of different kinds. The challenge, which is not an easy one to grapple with, is how we divert those resources from family breakdown to what I would call family investment.
I shall mention briefly ideas about the policy agenda that we should be discussing. At the end of last year, I published a paper called "Putting families first : a 10 point policy agenda". That is not to say that there are only 10 points, or that I necessarily got them right, but I was trying to encourage some debate. I will summaries the issues now.
First, we will all agree that we must invest in care because if the family is about anything, it is about providing care for the young and, increasingly, for the old as well. How are we to invest more in care and play to the strengths that are apparent in many families ? We must start at the beginning with the youngest--the under-fives. We must start to grapple- -a little late in our social history--with how we provide nursery education and other forms of care for the youngest. I do not believe that we want a uniform state service. Parents come in all shapes and sizes, children have different needs and parents must make their own judgments about child care. We need a range of services--statutory, voluntary and private, and also nursery and other forms of education to provide that care.
We must also remember that, in this age of the extended family, much of our debate now must be about carers. I do not know whether Ministers will be able to respond on this matter at the end of the debate. We know now about the impact that the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Act 1992 has had on providing extra care for carers. That provides much of the rhetoric on the issue and is one of its key objectives.
Do we have evidence now as to whether the carers of the eldest and those with disabilities are now--in practice and not just in words--receiving more services ? I have not seen the evidence in my constituency, but I would be interested to know of any objective material. The most important community care service--one that is sometimes taken too much for granted and is given just a pat on the back in speeches--is the family. It is far more important than the Departments of Health and of Social Security.
The second subject on the policy agenda is parental support, to which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam
Column 464(Lady Olga Maitland) referred. When one buys a motor car, one gets a handbook which tells all about the car. I do not understand it much myself, but the handbook will explain how the machine works and what to do if things go wrong. One can join the Automobile Association or the Royal Automobile Club and get advice about motor cars. We take children and parenting less seriously than the motor car. There is not as much support for parents as there is for people who drive motor cars.
The agenda is about the work and family issues that we have been discussing. Given that workers have the annoying habit of being mothers and fathers, and given also that many workers are also carers of elderly people --another part of the debate that often we do not recognise--how are we to recognise the dual functions of the worker-carer ? Are employers, trade unions and Government Departments trying to foster policies and practices that allow for that ? It must be worrying that probably the major reason that women are forced to leave their jobs before retirement age, although I have seen no recent evidence, is to care for an elder. It often would be better if they were enabled to stay in work as well as providing a caring role because of support from their employer and from the social services.
What about the preparation for parenthood in schools ? What is the role there, and are we taking that seriously enough ? Given the rates of teenage pregnancies, we are clearly making some mistakes. I sometimes feel also that there might be a gap in provision during early childhood. When one has a baby, one gets support in the first weeks and months from the health authorities. Later, when the child goes to school, there is support from the education authorities. Is there a gap somewhere in the middle where parents sometimes do not get support from the wider welfare state ? If there is a gap, who should bridge it ? Inevitably, the fact that we have departmentalism, with education and health authorities, may not enable us to bridge that gap.
What about guidance counselling ? Many marriages run into difficulties, and parents face problems. Do we have the right mixture of guidance and counselling ? Is it true--as I have heard--that there is a waiting list for Relate and for other guidance services ? Does that make any sense ? A marriage in trouble cannot wait very long for good advice.
There is also divorce law reform, which raises important issues. I hope that we will soon get on with a divorce law reform that will put children first. Too often, divorce is a battle between adults behaving in an infantile manner, championed by their lawyers. The children are often neglected. Yet although most parents who divorce have children under the age of 16--each year 160,000 children under 16 have mums and dads who divorce--their voices and concerns are often not heard in court.
We should consider the Law Commission's proposal, which is discussed in the Green Paper, whereby there would be a cooling-off period of a year, in which the court would have to be satisfied that the best welfare of the children had been considered before allowing the divorce. Such a reform would require more services, such as mediation and counselling, but if we can provide that it will be another important step.
A third point on a policy agenda must be rebuilding economic security and independence. I asked the Secretary of State whether she was worried that more of our children than ever before live in families dependent on income
Column 465support--yet another of those facts. If I am wrong about that, I hope that someone will correct me, but if it is true it must give rise to concern.
At a time of increasing worry about the dependency culture it is ironic that more of our families are caught in it. When constituents ask me for a better council flat or access to the social fund I often do not consider that the families are the ideal epitome of the welfare state in action. They often live in poor council housing on income support and have to have dealings with the social services department. It is the reverse of the welfare state in action and I see it as the dependency culture. What employment and social policies do we need to build and rebuild economic security for our families ? Fourthly, we need a proper policy and programme for young people. It is heartbreaking to come across young people who have struggled hard at school for qualifications, with greater or lesser success, but who simply become unemployed. In 1993, 22 per cent., or more than one fifth, of our 16 to 19-year-olds were unemployed.
Equally heartbreaking is the fact that 40 per cent. of teenagers who were out of work in 1989 were still unemployed two years later. We are making a mistake when young adults start off unemployed--my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) touched on that--and we should not be surprised that things go wrong. We should also not be surprised that, when a crisis affects a generation of young men, it has implications for women.
Surely we can do something about the fact that in 1990, 115,000 teenage girls became pregnant and that most of the pregnancies were certainly unplanned. The consequences are a horrifically high abortion rate and a large proportion of young, single, unmarried mothers, who start their adult lives in the worst possible circumstances. I believe that we can do something about those things.
Surely Britain needs a strategy for family policy. Many European countries grappled with such a policy generations ago and it is time that we caught up. Britain is undergoing a social revolution. The changes in families are substantial. I am not being partisan, but we are handling the changes badly. Because of our failure to develop a family policy and strategy, there are many victims. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, it is a cliche , but it is true to say that they are our most precious resource. I do not believe that we are investing enough in them. It is not about more spending commitments but about the issue that I touched on and how we move resources from a family breakdown service to a policy that invests in families, children and those who care for our old people. We are dealing with one of the most important matters that the House will consider this year. I hope that we can discuss it seriously or at least as seriously as it is being discussed by voluntary groups and other organisations outside the House in the International Year of the Family. Surely it is time to put families first.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : The speech by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) was well informed. In his work for the Family Policy Study Centre he did much outside the House to provide information and lines of thought on policy to those directly concerned with families.
Column 466Perhaps the kindest thing that I can say about the first speech in the debate is that the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) has a good reputation as her party's spokesman for children. If she and her hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West shared a place on the Opposition Front Bench, with the hon. Gentleman speaking for families, it might help the Labour party to have a two-pronged approach to such issues.
Many hon. Members present today will have missed the speech that I made on 17 December 1982, when I promoted a debate on the family-- [Interruption.] I commend the speech, but I warn hon. Members that it took an hour to make. The issues are the same now as they were then. If we could have a two-day debate every year on the various aspects of family policy targets we might find that the House would speak with a degree of authority and purpose.
Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend suggests that we should have a two-day debate. Is it not extraordinary that when we have only an afternoon debate hardly any Opposition Members are present ? Throughout this debate there have been more Conservative than Opposition Members present, yet this is supposed to be an Opposition debate. If the Opposition cannot fill their Benches for their own debates for one afternoon, how could they possibly fill them for a two-day debate ?
The purpose of my earlier remark was that if we set targets we can then talk about the approaches that are likely to help people to achieve a reduction in avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap and improve their well-being.
One can make the obvious point--as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did, and I was delighted to hear her speech--that the Labour party's institutions are basically built around the representation of people at work. However, that is not exclusively the case, and I pay tribute to a miners' leader in the 1930s, William Straker from Northumberland, who stressed the importance of introducing family allowances, in support of Eleanor Rathbone's long-term campaign for some sort of family endowment.
It is also true that the Conservative party, at its best, is built around the representation of people's family and household interests, which to some extent include their work interests, but also include solidarity between the generations, if I may be allowed to use another European expression from the year of social action. If we were to set targets to reduce avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap we would find it easy to reach an agreement across the Chamber, in the same way as we did when targets were set for reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. We asked what the problem was, what could be done about it and whether it was feasible to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries by one third by 2000.
During the past 25 years and the past 100 years there have been significant medical advances. In the first 75 years they came mainly from the plumbers, and in the past 25 years mainly from the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, nurses, health visitors and the like. There have also been significant economic advances during the past 25 years and the past 100 years for various reasons.
Column 467Have there been significant social advantages in the past 25 years ? In some areas there have been, but not nearly enough. How many young people will commit a serious crime for the first time this week--a crime for which, if they were caught and convicted, they might be sent to gaol for six months or more ? The answer is about 2,000--or 100,000 in a year. To put it differently, one third of men have already been convicted of a serious offence by the time they reach the age of 30.
Smoking is not a crime, but it is highly undesirable. Between 3,000 and 5,000 young people will take up smoking this week--this week, last week and next week. When the issue is discussed in the press we read only about tobacco advertising and how far it should be controlled. I have no arguments for continuing the promotion of tobacco--there are some arguments against banning it--but if it would make a difference of between 1 per cent. and 5 per cent., and if a child's parents' smoking makes a 250 per cent. difference and their not disapproving makes a difference of almost 700 per cent., how can we engage those people who might be in the Press Gallery or in broadcasting studios in focusing on the issues that matter most ?
Other hon. Members properly and sensitively mentioned unwanted pregnancies. Of those people who are sexually active this week, 6,000 will contribute to a conception which will end in an abortion during the next two or three months. It was 6,000 last week and it will be 6,000 this week and next. To put it bluntly, we ought to be able to halve that number during a period of about a year and a half just by overcoming people's ignorance, apathy, embarrassment, shyness, activity or whatever. But we should give them the choices. I pay tribute to Lord Deedes, who came to my constituency to talk to people. He went into various newsagents and came across what I would describe as a "child mother" of seventeen and a half, caring for a child. He talked to her about her relationship with the father of the child, with her parents and with her community.
It crossed my mind that if that young mother went into a school assembly to talk about the sense of responsibility in caring for her child, it would do a great deal more for the young people listening to her, not as she preached about behaviour but as she described her sense of responsibility for a new birth and for a relationship between hearts that goes on until one heart stops beating. Such a sense of responsibility is far more likely to reduce the number of unwanted conceptions than almost any preaching by any politician or by many others.
I do not want to disregard the role of the churches and other faith communities. When Geoffrey Finsberg responded as Minister to the 1982 debate, he spoke about the importance of trying to be with people at all stages of their lives, and our churches, chapels, temples, mosques and synagogues do a great deal of that.
A former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, spoke in his book "Christianity and Social Order" of the importance of the intermediate group, which we could characterise as being part of our parish system. It is our membership of trade unions with the volunteer shop stewards and others. It is our membership of parish groups of one kind or another, whether it is the Baptists, the Anglicans or the Catholics or whatever else it may be,
Column 468where we can be with people who know what it means to give comfort and support when things go wrong. Things do not always go wrong because of people's actions.
Death comes to us all. Each of us will be told at some stage that a parent has died, a spouse is dying or a child is seriously ill. Nothing can be worse than that, so let us be open about these trials and tribulations.
If we take the purpose of politics as being to reduce avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap, there is a role for the state and for local authorities and for many other groups, but the biggest influence of all, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put it, is what happens within the closest relationships.
Let us consider the research reports. The Plowden report into primary education in 1967 showed that the biggest influence on the success of a child's primary education was not the kind of school it went to or the school's approach, whether modern or old-fashioned, but the interest and support that the parents gave. And it does not have to be parents who are well educated themselves.
We could perhaps learn more from some parts of our immigrant communities, Chinese or Asian or people from the Caribbean such as Neville and Doreen Lawrence, the parents of Stephen Lawrence who was tragically murdered in my constituency. If people like that could have five minutes on television every week to explain how they are bringing their children up, and what sort of standards they want for them, it would be helpful.
Many of us whose families may have been in these islands for the past 14 generations, to borrow a phrase, have learned something about dedication to the interests of those to whom they feel responsible. Let us consider also the two reports on child health--the Black report and the Court report. It may be going too far back in time for some hon. Members, but those reports showed that what matters is what parents and families do and what they are able to do.
Without getting too far into polysyllabic sludge, facilitating matters, asking people to make choices, asking them their aspirations and ambitions, giving them time for reflection, allows their actions to match their ambitions and enables them to recognise that, when things go wrong, forgiveness and allowing people to start again are better than condemnation.
Any teacher, certainly some of mine, any tutor at university, certainly one of mine, and probably people in my own household, should know perfectly well that I am aware when I get things wrong. Giving that encouragement to go on and get them right next time or the time after that does matter.
Think of the transformations in people : commentators in newspapers nowadays may say that when they were young and independent and trendy they watched some David Bailey film, or whatever it was, in the late 1960s and they discovered where the Kings road was in Chelsea, but that now they have changed their minds as they approach 45 or 50 and they begin to believe that perhaps we ought to have the kind of control as well as the care that my right hon. Friend spoke about. What we need is the kind of continuity of common sense that comes from what I believe was described by Lady Thatcher or by my right hon. Friend as the impact of streetwise grannies.
In my constituency there are some estates where the amount of public money spent on housing has been dramatically high and where the outsides of people's
Column 469homes often look like Beirut on a bad day in the middle of the Lebanese civil war. When we consider that young people have managed to create so much destruction, we are bound to ask what can make a difference.
The answer may be the equivalent of parish constables. If so, I hope that they will be 40 to 60-year-old grandmothers who have lived there for some time, who know the people, their parents, their uncles and aunts and who have some link with the primary schools. I would make this suggestion to the Lord Chancellor. In any estate of more than 2,000 people there should be a requirement for people from the estate to be some of the local magistrates. The magistrates should not consist solely of grand ladies or gentlemen from the Labour movement, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats or whoever else coming in. Where two or three thousand are gathered together one ought to be able to find some who can go in for the disposal of those who are brought up for delinquency or for persistent vandalism or for being out of control.
I go a stage further. I welcome the references to the work of the Children's Society with which I served before I became a junior Minister. It found that, by putting a half-trained social worker into an unoccupied flat with a kettle and a washing machine, many parents could come together and meet for the first time.
What are the social interactions on some of these estates of ours ? When I was first elected in south-east London, part of my constituency had 5,000 people put there by a benign local authority. The estate was two-thirds the size of Arundel but it had no pub, no post office, no church or chapel, no policeman and nowhere to work within a mile and a half. Then one wonders why the community does not work and does not even exist.
The National Council of Voluntary Organisations, then called the National Council of Social Service, in the 1930s had the village hall movement which began providing the kind of place where people could meet and do the kind of things naturally together that they might do in a village in Surrey but that they do not do quite so often on the Middle Park estate, the Page estate, the Sherard estate, the Woolwich Common estate or any of the other estates in my constituency. People are the same and their ambitions are the same. The disadvantage of stress and handicap that we wish to avoid is often a result of alienation or, in some cases, anomie as well. It is important to get people involved together with their children, no matter whether it is a single-parent family, or one with two parents or a reconstituted family with step-parents. It is trying to give people fuller lives and a greater sense of achievement that matters. One expert in family policy told me that the problem was not one of people experiencing failure but that some people have never experienced success. Give them a pat on the back for having done well with their children.
I pay tribute to the author of the first book on family policy in this country, Margaret Wynn, who since then has carried on the work with her husband Arthur--even though both are now in their eighties--of looking at the things that make a difference.
If people knew the simple things that they could do and which would make a difference, we would have a transformation in well-being. One does not change society by a few extraordinary people doing a few extraordinary things occasionally but by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people doing ordinary things often. The parallel
Column 470with driving drawn by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West was important. One need not know the lot to be able effectively to do most of the things that parents can reasonably achieve.
When I was involved in reducing drink driving--or in helping others to reduce it as I pretty soon cut it out myself--I learned that most of our information comes from the mass media : radio, television, newspapers and magazines. I also learned the importance of trying to work out where in the family life cycle people were most at risk. Perhaps I may use drink driving as an example. I do not want to build too much on it, but it is a good illustration.
In 1986 young men were twice as likely to drink and drive as their fathers. Now they are half as likely to do so. There has been a dramatic transformation in which the young people have done better, and the reason is clear. Most people over the age of 25 do not know what kind of radio most young people listen to. I conventionally asked which was the most popular radio station in the country, to which the answer for many years has been Radio 1. If I ask where it can be found on the dial, most people do not know that it is between 97 and 99 FM. Is it better to hear a public service message from a 44-year-old Minister, as I then was, or from a 58- year-old disc jockey presenting news and current affairs to young people in a programme called "Rhythm and Booze" ? The answer is that the 58-year-old disc jockey wins every time.
Let us consider the importance within the M25 area of Kiss FM. One million young people a week listen to 100 FM. When one can ring up on the radio and have an exchange anonymously, when one can overcome embarrassment and ask the questions that matter most to one at the time about relationships or family formation, I believe that an audience will begin to react in a good way.
Fifteen years ago we missed out most discussion about business in public discussions and our broadcasting media. We had the Financial Times , The Times business news and 15 minutes a day on the radio, when no one was listening. That began to change because working life became integrated into public discussion and we learned a lot from that. Let us do the same with family policy issues.
Let us bring the family life cycle and the family perspective into account, and let us do it because of the numbers involved. If there are 7 million to 8 million live births a year in this country, that is about 1.5 million parents--more than 2 million people involved, at every stage in every year, half of them for the first time. If we have nearly two children per household, the second child may benefit from the experience of the experimentation of the first. If those 2 million people are this year for the first time involved in being an under-two or under-five or in a secondary school transfer or puberty or in learning to drive or in becoming sexually active for the first time, all those things deserve more than simply being concentrated in the agony columns or in condemnation when people spot some statistic saying that x or y proportion have been involved in this or that type of behaviour.
If we can bring together in Parliament or in our media--both matter--more people who are able to speak with a degree of experience, confidence and humility, we can make a transformation.
One of the reasons why it is important that, 70 or 80 years after women got the unrestricted vote, we ought to try to increase the percentage of women Members of the House of Commons from 8 or 9 per cent. to 20, 30, 40 or 50 per cent. is that we will move away from the caricature
Column 471of the Conservative family campaign, which makes it sound as though sex is something to be confined to a small corner of people's lives, and that having responsibility for elderly people or children is something to be spoken about only in big, bold letters in print in books, rather than as an ordinary part of a discussion such as this. I say that with modesty, seeing that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) is present.
We would be better informed about all those subjects if there were more people in this place who were able to say what our right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Angela Rumbold) said during one debate before she became Minister. She said that she was fed up with men in this place telling her what to do with her body. One would bring more reality into discussion of those issues and the country would benefit.
I make a plea to the business managers and to the Opposition. Instead of having the general debate that we are having today, which I welcome, or the type of debate that we had on 17 December 1982, we could pick out three or four issues and over two days have four debates about the ways in which we could effectively tackle crime, for example, in addition to what we do with the police and the prisons--which is important, but which is not the answer.
We can do the same in relation to education and in relation to the problem of unwanted conceptions--not that every unwanted conception leads to an unwanted child.
We can pick out the influence of tax allowances or expenditure over life cycles and the ways in which one can begin to integrate benefits so that more people get the chance of becoming taxpayers instead of having to rely on income support when they do not choose to do so. We can make the House start performing more effectively for families as they are, as much as for what they would want to be. It would deal with aspirations that matter most to people. I suspect that each side of the House has a contribution to make and we are only just starting.
Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch) : I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate in the International Year of the Family. I shall speak about a group that I believe is neglected too often in political debate--middle-income families. Those are the families that I met when campaigning in my by-election, and whom I continue to meet. They are people who work hard, who pay their taxes and who play by the rules, and they want a good start for their children in quality schools, and to live in safe communities.
It is appropriate that the Labour party has chosen the family as a subject for debate. My experience is that the Conservative Government have launched one of the most sustained attacks on middle-income families in British history. The Government have broken their promises not to increase taxes, and imposed a range of new taxes, which, when combined, will hit middle- income families hardest. In addition, they have created a tax system which is much more unfair to middle and low-income families.
Mrs. Maddock : I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution, and suggest that it would have been helpful if she had been at our press conference this morning. She would perhaps have got the true figures. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady has heard them as much as I have. The Government have failed to combat crime effectively. They have promised to do something about the fear of crime, yet there has been an increase. They have slapped an expensive tax on insurance. That is what people need to feel secure, as crime is increasing.
The Government have failed to boost nursery education and child care, and promises to students have been broken.
The Government have made a stream of broken promises on tax increases and families. What did the Conservatives promise at the 1992 general election ? A lower tax burden. That was what John Major promised on 15 March 1992.
Mrs. Maddock : I will give way in a moment. We were promised lower income tax. We were told in the Conservative manifesto of 1992 : "We will make further progress towards a basic Income Tax rate of 20p."
We were told by John Major :
"I have no plans to raise the top rate of tax or the level of national insurance contributions."--[ Official Report , 28 January 1992 ; Vol. 202, c. 808.]
Mr. Mans rose
If there was ever something that the Prime Minister said that he wished that he had never said, it must be that famous phrase : "We have no need and no plans to extend the scope of VAT". Every one of those promises was broken in the two 1993 Budgets.
Mrs. Maddock : In fact, 95 per cent. of families are affected by the tax changes introduced in the November 1993 Budget. Instead of the lower taxes that they promised, the Government are hitting middle-income families with higher
The Government are hitting middle-income families with higher national insurance contributions. There has also been, along with all the other increases not phased in, restrictions in the value of personal tax allowances for married couples. That is Liberal Democrat policy and we have been attacked for it by the Conservative party.
We have had cuts in mortgage interest tax relief--another policy that we put forward and on which we were attacked, and on which the Government will not come clean. When asked whether they will phase out mortgage interest tax relief completely, they will not admit it properly. VAT has been imposed on fuel. All those things are affecting families in my community.
Mr. Mans : So that the record is put straight, will the hon. Lady tell the House about the figures announced at the press conference this morning and the fact that the Liberal Democrats spend more local authority money and tax people more ? Will she explain her party's proposal for an energy tax and the fact that they would increase income tax ?
Mrs. Maddock : I should be in danger of going off the subject of families if I answered absolutely every question. On the press conference this morning--I dare say that this will cause some amusement--our taxes were in the middle when it came to spending by local authorities.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the November 1993 Budget cut after-tax household incomes by an average of 3.5 per cent. But the middle- income families are hit hardest by the Government's tax changes.