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The noble Lord referred to Cabinet committees. The Cabinet committees to which I referred relate to the counterterrorism activity. It is extremely important that the activity not only of, for example, using the police but also ensuring that the battle for values and ideas is won should be co-ordinated. That is why one committee is needed to replace a number of committees and why we need to ensure the Home Secretary is in a role where he can co-ordinate all that activity. I do not believe it makes it more complicated; its aim is to make it less complicated.

Everybody in government is on the same side in relation to the conflict between civil liberties and the fight against crime and terrorism. Of course there will be issues in striking that balance, which the Government discuss collectively at the moment. I do not believe that resolution of those issues will be made any more difficult by these changes. I believe that with a Ministry of Justice there will be a much more coherent approach to reducing reoffending and to penal policy.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I welcome the Statement and declare an interest in that my wife is a magistrate. In magistrates’ courts, where 90 per cent of all criminal justice is dispensed, there is a clear disjoint between their efforts to reduce reoffending rates and reformation and the suite of tools they have available. How will the new Ministry of Justice focus on this issue? What will my noble and learned friend be doing to focus on the right support for the courts, particularly the development of a holistic range of non-custodial sentences, so that the courts do not have to send people to prison in the first place and so that those who offend do not reoffend?

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his welcome of the proposals. He absolutely identifies the right issue. I make two points in relation to that. First, it must be clear that the courts remain as independent after these changes as they are before. Secondly, in building up means of reducing reoffending, we will be building on the hugely valuable and important work done by NOMS and by the Home Office over the past 10 years; for example, in building effective community penalties, where appropriate, to assist people to stop offending behaviour.


1.56 pm

Lord Northbourne rose to call attention to the rights of the child and to the role of stability and family life in the well-being of children with particular reference to the recently published UNICEF report, Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I set down this Motion to give the House an opportunity to discuss the above-named recently published UNICEF report, and to note its shortcomings.

In their introduction to the report the authors say:

They go on to say, referring to their own report:

The report draws on the most recent comparable data available, but in some cases those data are several years-old. It is possible that later data may show the UK in a more positive position.

However, the findings of the report are to some extent mirrored in other recent reports; for example: the IPPR report in 2006, Freedom's Orphans, which draws attention to the poor socialisation of some of our young people today and to the serious consequences; the reports by Save the Children and the University of York, The Well-being of Children in the UK, published in 2005, and the Commission onFamilies and the Wellbeing of Children, published in October 2005; and, indeed, some of the Government's own publications, including Every Child Matters: Change for Children, published in 2006.

Things may be getting better, but as the fifth richest country in the world should we not be ashamed of having ever let things get so bad? I would be very interested if the Minister could give the House up-to-date figures for this country and comparable figures for the rest of Europe.

I did not table this Motion with the intention of attacking the Government. My hope is that it will give rise to a debate that will, in the long run, contribute to reducing the number, or indeed, the proportion, of the nation’s children who are prevented from attaining their full potential because of inadequate or inappropriate parenting.

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In the 10 years since this Government came into power in 1997, they have instigated many initiatives targeted at improving the well-being of the nation's children, probably more than any other Government before them. First the Social Exclusion Unit was set up to identify in more detail the problem—a very intelligent start. Then Sure Start was set up at the instigation of the Treasury to solve the very important problems in children's early years. There was the Connexions service, the Youth Justice Board, more childcare and nursery schools and many other things; and there was more money for education. More recently, we began to hear about the huge organisational changes involved in the Every Child Matters programme. That work is still developing.

Now, dead on cue for this debate, the Government have published their latest report, Every Parent Matters. I am grateful to the Minister for sending me a copy on Monday. The report is most welcome. For 10 years, I have been hoping and occasionally trying to persuade the Government to accept that parents should be treated as partners rather than clients or, still worse, enemies in the great enterprise of raising the nation's children. Imagine, therefore, my surprise and delight when Every Parent Matters came into my hands. A good deal of surprise arose, I have to say, from the need completely to rewrite my speech for this afternoon, but the delight was genuine. If the report is implemented, the change of emphasis that it urges on local authorities and professionals will, I believe, eventually lead to better outcomes for children.

In the foreword to the report, Alan Johnson, the Minister, states:

Amen. That was music to my ears. At last, I see real hope that the professional and voluntary sectors will have to build parents into the equation as their partners. I am delighted that the report recognises two things, the first of which is the key role of parents. It recognises that parents should normally be encouraged and respected as the leading partners in providing for a child’s parenting and well-being. It states that the majority of parents give their children the family life that they need to develop to their full potential but that some are putting their children at risk of failure—failure in school and failure in life—by denying them the security, love, family life and parenting that they need in their early years and, indeed, throughout their childhood.

Why are parents so important? A major reason is that their influence almost inevitably dominates the very early years of a child's life. Those early years are when crucial emotional and social development should be taking place. A child’s healthy social and emotional development depends on that experience of a secure, loving attachment, a secure loving relationship with a dependable adult, from birth—indeed, throughout childhood, but particularly between conception and the age of two or three.

Of course, all children are different, as some have more resilience than others, but almost all, perhaps all, fare best if they have the experience of a secure and loving attachment in their early years. The outcomes for those who do not have such an attachment often

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appear as lack of self-esteem, lack of social skills or lack of communication skills. Those are the building blocks on which subsequent healthy relationships will be built, and too many children grow up in families that deny them those building blocks. That is one of the explanations for the poor socialisation of some of our youth today.

I am also delighted that the report recognises that fathers matter, that both a loving father and a loving mother are important to a child's well-being. Living in a home with a committed, caring father, it states, will improve a child's chances of success in school. Fathers simply should not feel that it is acceptable to walk away from a child whom they have fathered or that it is enough just to contribute to maintenance without giving the child emotional support and setting him or her a good example as a father should. I accept, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said to me once when he was Lord Chancellor, that you cannot make a father love his child, but surely a father has a moral duty at least to try to help his child.

Some other issues seem to have been largely omitted from the report. The first is precisely the right of the child to a secure family life. Does a child have a right to a secure family life and to parental love? Statistics show clearly that children who live in two-parent families with a father and a mother in a stable relationship have better life chances. There is undoubtedly room for more research on the chain of causality—why that is the case—but, pending further research, there is a strong case for encouraging more young parents to form and sustain that sort of family, even if the help that we give is only through such things as affordable housing, tax breaks, flexible working, parenting education and support, more back-up from grandparents, and so forth.

If we are right in believing that a child absolutely needs a secure and loving relationship in his early years if he is to develop to his full potential, should he not have a right to that secure, loving relationship? I, and someone who is helping me, have spent a great deal of time looking at the law on the subject. It is depressingly unclear. Probably the nearest that we come to a statement on the subject is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states in Article 18:

I wonder what they mean by “will be”. Is that a pious hope; is it a statement of intent; or is it indeed an order?

I turn from rights to duties, because there can be no rights without duties. The report does not address the duties and obligations of parents to their child, the role of commitment by parents, such things as the joys and rewards of being a parent, or the countervailing responsibilities, duties and sacrifices that parents have to make, including those relating to parental lifestyle choice such as career, money and the threat posed for some by monogamy.

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During the past 50 years, our society has rid itself of outdated Victorian moral values, which were unfair or indeed sometimes cruel to women, but we have failed to replace those values with new ones that protect children adequately. Children need families with stability and love and they need a good example. There is a need for a much clearer understanding in our society of the duties of parents. Surely we need a new consensus on family values centred on the well-being of the child. Obviously, families need freedom to run their own lives, but they should not have freedom to damage their children's chances.

The third thing that the report does not address is the challenge of motivating and engaging parents who are at present short-changing their child. Of course, there will always be some parents who cannot or will not change, but we should be working at the margins with those whom we can influence. Also, the report does not address the funding, training and staffing of the new services that it envisages. It would be tragic and shaming for this country if the well-being of the nation's children ended up on the backburner for lack of adequate funding.

Finally, I shall move into the world of fantasy to tell you my dream, my secret wish list. On the basis of the research evidence available and of experience, this Government or some Government ought to be bold enough to do the following things. The first is to promote family stability by stating publicly that secure, committed, two-parent families are, for whatever reason and under today's conditions, likely to give children the best chance to develop to their full potential, and that parents who make that commitment should be encouraged and supported. Secondly, the Government must say publicly that, because a father’s role is important to his child, and because he, not the child, caused that child to be born, every father has the responsibility not only to pay maintenance but to give his child the time and love that it needs, whether or not they live under the same roof. Thirdly, the Government must say publicly that fathers and mothers who marry, or who make some other comparable long-term commitment to one another and to their child, are doing the nation as well as their child a service, and they should be encouraged, supported and rewarded accordingly. Fourthly, the Government should set themselves a target that, within a given period of years, every bona fide and committed parental couple will, within seven days of the birth of their first child, be offered affordable housing so that they can begin to make a home together for their family. I recognise the investment involved, but I believe that we can afford it. Fifthly, the Government should set a target to reduce by an agreed percentage over the next 10 years a proportion of the nation’s children who grow up in families that deny them the opportunity to develop to their full potential emotionally, mentally and physically. I beg to move for Papers.

2.11 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for inviting the House to debate this important subject. The UNICEF report on childhood in industrial countries holds up to the light the way in which we in the United Kingdom

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support and parent our young people, and it finds us wanting. However, we can point to some sections of the report, such as the figures for relative poverty, and take some comfort from the fact that, if more current figures had been used we would have done much better. Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I accept that the data used do not take into account the considerable investment by the Government to end child poverty or initiatives such as Sure Start, even taking into account the figures published yesterday that showed that we had slipped back in our efforts to end child poverty. We are trying. Others will point to initiatives such as the introduction of the specialised diploma scheme to address the poor level of educational well-being, which exists despite our children being better off than many for educational resources, and to improve the rates of children not in education, training or employment, as well as the ambitions of the current 40 per cent of our 15 year-olds who expect to find work requiring low skills.

We should hang our head in shame at the document’s analysis of issues that point to the mental and physical well-being of our children, and accept that, when we compare the UNICEF report with more recent research based on the direct experiences of young people, the picture of a troubled and unhappy generation still holds true. Although British children are less likely to die as a result of accidents, we show a high number of children with a very low birth weight, which is a well established measure of risk to cognitive and physical development through childhood and which may be linked to our relatively high rates of teenage pregnancy.

The study excludes mental health, but we know from research from the Nuffield Foundation that mental ill health in adolescents in this country is growing faster than in those in many other European countries and the United States. Research from YoungMinds, a mental health charity, shows the high level of anxiety and stress experienced by young people as they move from adolescence to young adulthood. The research also shows that children feel let down by their education. To paraphrase John Reid, they feel that they are not made fit for purpose and that they lack basic skills. Children killing children is almost impossible to believe. It seems to be becoming a new skill. The research highlighted the importance of the peer group, with friends taking the place of family as the most influential people in a young person’s life. Pray to God that this may not be so. It is deeply sad that we have the lowest number of children who find their peers kind and helpful. Recent reports on bullying have highlighted the level to which bullied children feel unprotected by others in our society. YoungMinds reports that it has spoken to children and young people who have said that their lives are made miserable by bullying, but that in their experience schools focused on the needs of the bully not on supporting and protecting those who complain.

The House must be fully aware of the concern about risky behaviour. It will come as no surprise that our young people take high risks by taking drugs, smoking, drinking, having sex early and having very high rates of teenage pregnancy. We may wring our hands over this current generation and wonder what

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we have done wrong, but I think we already know many of the answers. The old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child should be at the heart of how we raise our children today. We need to stop demonising young people by putting photographs of 10 year-old children with an ASBO on the front page of a national newspaper. We should listen to the child’s mother who says that his behaviour improved once he had medical help for his attention deficit disorder, and we should ensure that children like him receive help quickly.

The report points to the need for parents to remain fully involved with their children throughout adolescence, by which we mean maintaining the basics of talking, listening, being there when they come home from school, eating with them and knowing where they are going, what they are doing and with whom they are mixing. However, parents need support to do this. Those who work long hours—the Government want us all to go into the workplace—or who work in more than one job to pay high mortgages cannot be in two places at once, so we need to change the long-hours culture and to develop more family-friendly working practices. Those who do not know how to parent need practical help from the earliest days, with a high input from midwives, health visitors and other grown-ups. Schools must be places of safety where children can learn in peace. We need smaller classes, as we have been saying for years, and more behavioural support for the disruptive. The business community must become involved in supporting the parents who work for them and the young people who are left at home. However, we must also allow young people to find the resources within themselves and to take pride in what they can achieve, and we must help them to take responsibility for their own actions.

I have spent much of my life pointing out to the ignorant that the colour of your skin does not determine your ability. It can, however, determine your opportunity to succeed, and where it does, it can waste a lot of potential. I cannot accept that, in a nation that enables every child to have a school place and free healthcare and in which we have a range of professionals to help children born into disadvantaged communities, we still have so many young people whose potential is never realised. It is time for us to be humble, to look outside ourselves to see what is being done in other countries, and to take steps to put their good practice to work here. Our children cannot wait, and they deserve nothing less, or should we have a reformation of good manners, as Wilberforce said in 1807?

2.19 pm

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: My Lords, I am privileged to follow the noble Baroness, who I know has been deeply committed to these subjects over many years. We first worked together in relation to the particularly tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. He came from a family who were involved in his well-being, shared in his activities and supported him at school. They behaved in the way that all of us studying this deeply distressing report would wish and unlike the young men who were responsible for that matter.

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We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing this debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. Like the Minister, I have had gentle hand-bagging—as one might say, depending on one’s political pedigree—from the noble Lord over the years. During my ministerial years he was a regular lobbyist and campaigner, a charming and coercive champion of these issues. So how much more worrying it is that we should read this UNICEF report, which is a challenge to us all. There are many paradoxes in it. I am sure that the Minister will be tempted to explain why the methodology is flawed and to say that it is a self-report. In the EU, it is the British who always complain more. In the complaints league, it is always the British who like to say that they are miserable and unhappy and who have a lot to talk about. But, using the words of the noble Baroness, I hope that we can approach this subject with a sense of humility.

It is deeply shocking that we should emerge in the bottom third of the table on relative poverty and deprivation. Of course poverty is not the only issue. Why else would we find that young people in the Czech Republic—which has a much lower GDP than the United Kingdom—have a much greater sense of well-being than our own? Why do we rank so low in the quality of children’s relationships with their parents and peers? Is there something in the comments today by His Excellency the Cardinal about something in our secular world repelling faith communities?

I recall the subtle resistance to giving money to faith-based groups when Section 64 grants—public money given to philanthropic organisations—were given and in the early years of the lottery. The Salvation Army, Jewish Care and the Children’s Society frequently provided a better quality of care than many of the secular models. Why is it becoming more difficult for faith-based schools? As many of us know through our own experience, faith-based schools are often much better at instilling not just knowledge and facts but a sense of belonging and the values that we want in our young people. Can we redress that balance? Why are our child health figures on low birth weight and infant mortality so poor? And what of the deterioration resulting from the MMR disaster and the myths that were allowed to spread all too soon?

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