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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I confirm my personal willingness to take part in the intellectual turbulence which appears to have descended over Chequers. Are the Government aware that one of the roles of the United Kingdom in the world is to lead it, as it has done so often during the past two centuries? Will the Government address themselves to the leadership of the nation by getting to the heart of the nation? That will avoid the necessity for periodic genuflection towards everything that comes from Brussels.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Chatham House conference to be held on 29th March depends upon the success of the Foreign Office in raising contributions to finance it from business? If so, what success has been achieved so far? I gather that the Prime Minister and the shadow Foreign Secretary have been booked to speak at the conference.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the shadow Foreign Secretary have been booked to speak at the conference. I understand that it is scheduled to take place on 29th March.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, will the Government reflect on their policy of placing Britain in the heart of Europe? According to my understanding of geography, that would put us somewhere about the position of Switzerland and would prevent us from using our maritime links to trade with the rest of the world. Bearing in mind the fact that the Government have presided over a rundown in our merchant marine sector over the past 10 or 15 years, can the Minister explain what action the Government propose to take to ensure, first, that we are not placed in the heart of Europe and, secondly, that we can see an expansion and development of our merchant navy?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I explained earlier, the Government's policy has been, is, and will continue to be, that we should be at the heart of Europe. We do not concede that there is any incompatibility with that and being a trading nation all around the world.
Lord Judd: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that central to the Government's foreign policy is continued, permanent membership of the Security Council? Further, will the Minister agree that permanent membership of that council faces us with immense responsibilities of global leadership? In that context, can the Minister explain why the Government went along with the cancellation of the planned special Security Council meeting in January to discuss the pressures on the UN system at present and the desperate need for regeneration and revitalisation of that organisation? Can the Minister assure the House that, in the Government's preoccupations, central to their thinking is the need for a pro-active foreign policy rather than a reactive foreign policy and the importance, above all, of greater emphasis on conflict resolution and pre-emptive diplomacy?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I can confirm that the noble Lord is correct. It is central to our foreign policy to remain a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We are fully conscious of the responsibilities that rest on our shoulders as a result. I
Lord Kennet: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on the relaxed and constructive way in which he has handled this lengthy Question. I hope that he will draw the matter to the attention of his right honourable friend and point out that certain parts of the debate were quite a live horse.
Lord Northbourne rose to call attention to the case for addressing the problems of juvenile crime, delinquency and truanting by making available co-ordinated education and support for young parents, and prospective parents; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope to convince your Lordships this afternoon that crime and unemployment, major scourges of our society, could both be substantially reduced if every child received the kind of "good enough" parenting which it needs and
In his well-known study, Crime and the Family, published in 1993 by the Family Policy Studies Centre, David Utting came to the same conclusion: there is a link between crime and early experience in the family. Helena Kennedy QC, a leading barrister dealing with children's cases, recently said:
For the past quarter of a century, recorded crime figures in England and Wales have risen on average by around 5 per cent. per year. Violent crime is on the increase. Much of that criminal activity is by young people. Almost half of all male offenders known to the police are under 21, and 20 per cent. are under 17.
I believe that your Lordships will agree that unemployment is one of the most important predisposing causes of crime. Particularly for men, unemployment leads not only to poverty but also to humiliation. In this country today we have 2.4 million people unemployed, of whom 1.8 million are men.
In today's global market low skills mean low wages or unemployment. Today, education and training are more important than they have ever been. Yet some of this country's children are not getting the education that they need. We know that some schools are not as good as they should be, but there is a much more important reason; namely, that some children arrive at school without the emotional and social skills which they need to settle down and to learn.
It seems that those first days at primary school may well be the most important days in a child's life. During those days he either discovers that he is able to get on with other childrento become part of the group, can settle down to work and relate to teachersor he discovers that he cannot cope with relationships with other children, he does not trust the teachers, he does not accept that there are boundaries to reasonable behaviour, and he is bored by work which he cannot understand. Such children reject school. They switch off and refuse to try to learn and they usually become disruptive. Later, they turn to truanting. Last year, 12 per cent. of all school children in primary and secondary schools in this country truanted for 12 or more half days in the year.
In that context, the importance of pre-school education was recognised by the National Commission on Education chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who, unfortunately, cannot be in his place today due to an appointment in the north country. The Government have also recognised the importance of
Recent research suggests that children seek to make sense of their environment even in the first months of their life. It is then that they first find their efforts encouragedor not. It is then that they first conclude that the world seems organised and reasonably predictableor not. It is then that they first learn that adults near to them are basically supportiveor not. Through simple, everyday actions, children learn very clearly whether their needs are important to their parents, whether their effort is supported, whether promises will be kept and whether they are loved. It is in the first three years of life that the foundations for later learning are laid down. Hence the enormous importance of parenting.
So why are some parents failing to give their children the kind of support in the early years that they need? In July last year the all-party parliamentary group for parenting, of which some of your Lordships are members, and the body representing the International Year of the Family jointly held four parliamentary hearings in another place. Some of the conclusions of those hearings are interesting in this context. One was that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We can all subscribe to that. What children need is simply "good enough" parenting.
Another point which was made was that nearly all parents want to be good parents when they start out. But many, when they start out, have no idea of the difficulties and sacrifices involved. Stress is a major cause of inadequate parenting. Stress may be caused by the breakdown of family relationships or by external factors such as unemployment, poverty, debt, alcohol, violence and so forth. Young lone parents are of course particularly vulnerable. Loneliness and lack of self-confidence are common causes of inadequate parenting. All parents need help at some time. Do not we all know that? Traditional mechanisms in society todaysuch as grandparents, the extended family and so forthare not always in place. We have to create a society in which it is realised that there is no shame in asking for help.
I believe that it is not helpful to blame inexperienced parents, especially when they are trying to do their best. What they need is help. With just a little help a vastly greater number of parents could be "good enough" parents. The good news is that it is possible to help parents. We know this because it is being done successfully across the country, here and there, by voluntary organisations and by some local authorities.
In addition to support, or perhaps prior to support, young people need preparation for parenthood. Education about relationships and life skills should be taught in primary and secondary schools. Relationship education helps children prepare for their future relationships and it can help to break the cycle of unhappy relationships in families which can otherwise be passed on from generation to generation. That cycle of deprivation was identified by the late Lord Joseph more than a decade ago. Relate has been working in the field of relationship education.
Family friendly employment practices can help. The Midland Bank is an enlightened employer in this respect. It has realised that it is easier to recruit and retain good employees if employment patterns are adjusted to reduce the stress which is caused when a good employee also wants to be a good parent. There are other ways to help parents on which I should like to spend time, but I think that time forbids that. I hope that some of those issues will be touched on by other speakers. They include such things as the structure of families in our society today; single teenage mothers; the role of unemployed fathers and of course the tax and benefit system.
Finally, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the enormous savings to the Exchequer and to the taxpayer, and the enormous savings in human terms through the avoidance of wasted lives, which could be achieved if we could reduce the number of children who are damaged in their early life by not receiving the "good enough" parenting that they need. In 1991-92 public expenditure for criminal justice was nearly £3,000 million. In the same year the value of goods stolen was £3,500 million pounds. The cost of keeping a child in a secure training centre will be between £100,000 and £150,000 a year. The cost of residential care is around £35,000 a year. The cost of fostering is between £13,000 and £15,000 a year. Contrast that with the cost of putting a Home-Start volunteer into a child's home. That is about £150 a year. The cost of a place in a pre-school playgroup is about £280 per year. It does not need a high success rate to make parent support a good investment.
Supporting vulnerable children by supporting their parents does not cost a lot of money. It has been proved to be successful. Compared to the cost of prison services or the cost of unemployment, it is an incredibly good investment, so why is it not happening? Could it be that the financial pressure on each of the three great spending departmentsthe Home Office, education and
If money is short, do not spend the money on research, do not spend it on experimental projects; spend it on extending existing good practice which has been proved to work. Spend it on supporting and extending projects which have been proved to be successful. Let us invest in success. Is there any other single investment which could produce such a gigantic dividend in financial and human terms? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Elton: My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for bringing this important matter before your Lordships' House. In 1988 the Government appointed a committee to inquire into discipline in schools. The committee was given very wide terms of reference. I chaired it. It reported in January 1989. The fifth chapter of the report dealt with the role of parents and the importance of "socially responsible parenting". I have little time to apologise for or expand on that educationally acceptable phrase in this timed debate.
Good parenting is, of course, both firm and loving. Those who are familiar with their Bibles have no difficulty with this combination. In my experience it is children who have been starved of love and affection who both have the greatest difficulty and cause the greatest difficulty. They it is who most predictably cause serious disruption in school and become the truants, delinquents and, later, the criminals who are the subject of this debate. Those starved of firm direction follow close behind. Those starved of both have the worst handicap and, as adults, poselet us not forgetthe greatest threat to society, as the noble Lord has pointed out. All have been denied what commentators call socially responsible parenting.
We recognised that school age parenthood was a rare but growing phenomenon; that it was a result, very often, of inadequate parenting in the deprived family of the child mother; and that it would inevitably be repeated in the next generation unless the cycle could be broken. It is a very rapid cycle. The children of school age pregnancies themselves become schoolchildren, and school problems, within a matter of five years. We saw that schools are in a uniquely important place in that cycle, but that they can only contribute to breaking it. They cannot break it on their own. They must be encouraged to make their contribution and others must also contribute.
We made it with diffidence, given the difficulty of teaching the subject appropriately in school. But it was necessary in part because our next, and more important, recommendation would take time to implement. This was that:
I believe that Her Majesty's Government accepted that recommendation, as they accepted all but two of our many recommendations. Can my noble friend tell your Lordships' House, now that the children born to school-age mothers in that January have themselves been in school for up to a year, what steps they have taken to develop that strategy, what the strategy is, and how it is working? If not, what have they put in its place?
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, most of us will want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing the debate, and will sympathise with him for having a debate in which there is such a limited time to speak.
I should like to launch straight into what most of us would agree are the ideal standards in society and the framework within which to bring up children. We would like to see strong civic standards and strong institutions, which make for a happy and productive community. I believe that few noble Lords will disagree that many of those characteristics in our society have been subject to deterioration over a long time. I do not wish to lay blame for that at the feet of any particular government. It is one of the facts of life.
Within that sad state of affairs we have seen, particularly in deprived areas, children being born into a life in which there is little chance of love and affection, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, and with the ensuing lack of the trust and confidence in others which is so necessary in bringing up children.
Examples are very important for children at an early stage. Television must bear some responsibility. If children do not have a family environment in which good examples are set they will turn to bad examples, whether those are violent television programmes or a delinquent brother who may well be stealing motor vehicles, and so on.
Noble Lords who have heard me speak on previous occasions will know that I am enormously keen on the provision of pre-school places. I believe that before the age of five, when children enter formal schooling, they need engagement with other children, preferably with their mothers. This morning I went to the very encouraging launch of a reshaped organisation called the Pre-School Learning Allianceformerly the Pre-School
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, by the iron rules of the House we are condemned to a symphony of sound bites, but in the few moments available I shall pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and those who have supported him so eloquently.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has brought before us a subject which has been neglected for far too long. I speak as one who, like other noble Lords, has been involved with youth work in one way or another over many years and has written and spoken about the subject. I published a book on young offenders in 1993.
Most of us who have talked and written about the subject have not said much about parents. Today I shall quote briefly in the time available some of the views of a remarkable woman called Shirl Marshall who has founded a society called Aftermath, which deals with the problems of parents of offenders. She has been in close touch with the parents of the two boys aged 10 and 11 who murdered a little baby aged two. Therefore she knows what she is talking about. She has been concerned not only with juveniles but also with adults. Today I refer to her views on juveniles and particularly the parents of those who have committed such grave crimes. I am a patron of Aftermath, but I am unpaid so I do not think that I need to declare an interest.
The first point I wish to raise is the terrible distress and agony of parents whose children have committed grave crimes. They ask themselves the everlasting question: "Where did I go wrong?". When it is brought home to them what has happened the parents undergo a terrible shock. They begin to recognise some of the damage in their own personalities, which they may have inherited. They are often themselves damaged personalities.
Those who counsel the parents have to ask how they can help those parents to help the young offenders. The short answer is that they have to understand and come to terms with their own damaged personalities to avoid that damage being passed on to their children.
That is not the whole of wisdom, but the information comes from someone who is in daily touch with the parents of children who have done these terrible things.
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