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These amendments are important for children in care for the reasons that I have just given, but I believe that they could also serve a more general purposethat of helping parents and prospective parents to be more aware of the parenting needs of the child. This Government believe, rightly, that every child matters. If that is true, surely it is important that all parents should at least know what their child needs from them.
Most, but not all, mothers instinctively accept the responsibility of loving and caring for their child. Some fathers do not and some fathers are prevented from doing so by the childs mother. In our society today, significant groups of fathers do not accept that if a man fathers a child he has an ongoing responsibility for the parenting of that child. Today, about 50,000 children a yearthat is, approximately 137 children every single day of the yearpermanently lose all meaningful contact with their father. Of course, a birth father is not essential for the successful parenting of a child. Many children thrive without their birth father but many others do not, and too many do not do as well as they might. I refer, in particular, to the fact that they do not develop the self-confidence and social skills that they will need to survive in school and, later, in mainstream society.
Research findings show that good, supportive parenting is easier to achieve through a team of two committed parents working together than through one person struggling alone. It is also true that both boys and girlsbut especially boyslearn a lot from having a good father as a role model and from observing how a man and a woman can work together as a team and have an argument without a relationship breaking down. Fathers do matter.
There is no easy solution to the problems in our society today caused by the lack of supportive parenting. However, there are undoubtedly some things that we could be doing and others that we should be doing. One obvious starting point is to reach shared values about how the state, parents and family should share the responsibility for a childs parenting. What are the shared values of our society on that issue? We have to consider what will work in practice. It simply is not reasonable for Government to expect parents to do their job in our society if they are not clear about what is expected of them.
Unlike Scotland, England has no clear statement in statute law about the responsibilities of parenthood. I fear that today we are sleepwalking into a laissez-faire situation in which fathers and mothers are given little or no guidance about their responsibilities. We leave them to decide whether or not they want to become involved in the care and parenting of their child and, if either or both decide that they do not, the state picks up the pieces. Sadly, that policy is not working very well for two reasons. First, the state is not very well suited to being a parent. Children need parents, or surrogate parents, who are loving, committed and there for them in the long term. All those things are a tall order for an institution. Secondly, the cost of state parenting to taxpayers is very high, which leads to taxpayers resistance and to cutting corners to save costs.
I believe that a clear, non-prescriptive statement of what children in our society need from parenting could be helpful to parents, to all those whose job it is to teach or to guide parents and, indeed, to those who give guidance to immigrants arriving in this country about what we expect of them. The purpose of this group of amendments is to bring greater certainty about how Government, Parliament and our society
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Amendment No. 39 is a repeat of an amendment I tabled in Committee and which received a very wide measure of support from noble Lords from both Opposition parties and from many of my noble friends and colleagues who are extremely well qualified in this area. As a result, the Minister said that he would take the matter away and, although making no promises, consider it again. I am sure he has done so and I shall look forward to hearing what he has to say. I believe that there are problems. However, will the Minister say whether the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan to include these things rather than suggest that there should be an absolute definition might be helpful? I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 10 and 40 in this group stand in my name. Amendment No. 40 is an amendment to Amendment No. 39 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which I support. I want to add a reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for one simple reason. If it were added to the duties of parental responsibility, the Government would have to do much more about public education so that people understand what the Government have signed up to. If more parents and children knew what was in the convention, I am sure that they would value it and use it in their everyday life. I have seen what a difference education about the convention can make to the standard of behaviour in a school in Hampshire and I know that those children involve their parents and the whole community in activities that demonstrates an understanding of the convention. They learnt that with rights come responsibilities and they respect the rights of others. That is why I am keen for a reference to having regard to the convention inserted into Amendment No. 39.
Amendment No. 10 also puts a reference to the convention into the remit of the Secretary of State to promote the welfare of children, a welcome addition to the Bill made by the Minister on the last day in Committee. That is why I have asked for my amendment to be grouped with that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.
In October this year, the UK will be examined for the third time by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on its implementation of the convention. One of the committees 78 recommendations made in 2002 was that the UK should incorporate the
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It is a pity that, in Grand Committee, the Minister did not refer to any increased awareness within government of the need to have regard to and fully implement the convention as required by international law. Peers had a lengthy debate about the relationship between the five outcomes of Every Child Matters and the convention during the passage of the Children Act 2004. Initially, the Childrens Commissioner legislation tied the commissioner to the five aspects of well-being, but not to the convention. After strong criticism in your Lordships House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, agreed to amend the legislation to require the commissioner to have regard to the convention. Now we have our opportunity to have the Secretary of State have regard to the convention too. Indeed, the Childrens Plan, published only a couple of months ago, suggests that the Government now accept that the five outcomes and the convention are complementary.
We are six months away from the next examination of the UK by the committee. We can expect strong criticism from this international human rights monitoring body on many aspects of law and policy. The Bill gives us the opportunity to start building the right government infrastructure now. We do not have to wait for the committees conclusions. It is a long time since ratification. Were my amendment to be accepted, it would show considerable political commitment to the convention and require Ministers to accept the treaty as fundamental to improving the well-being of children in our country.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I have put my name to three of the amendments in this group, and shall speak particularly to Amendments Nos. 9 and 11. If I had been speaking on the Children Bill before it became the Children Act, it would not have crossed my mind that it was necessary to put in something about supportive parenting. However, that was 20 years ago. We now live a world in which children are born to families with much less regard to the standards of 50, or even 20, years ago.
The whole concept of parenthood seems less well known, understood and cherished than it has ever been before. We have got to a point where 40 per cent of children are born outside marriage. Children are born by IVF, which now has the need for supportive parenting, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has said. It is necessary that people should be told what supportive parenting is. It should be taught in schools and to young people. There should be something that people can grasp and say, This is what is meant by supportive parenting. I do not think it was needed in the Children Act, but it is needed now, so I particularly support Amendments Nos. 9 and 11. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, knows, I am not entirely happy about the proposal to amend Clause 10. The judges are against it. It may be that that would be better placed in guidancethere was excellent guidance for the Children Actbut it needs to be somewhere. For those reasons, I support Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 39.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments in this group, particularly Amendment No. 11. I do not think that it would extend the essence of the law. I do not pretend for a moment to carry these things in my mind, so I have been looking at Section 31 of the Children Act 1989, which sets out the concept of harm to a child. The concept turns on questions of the childs health, his development and his welfare. The childs benefit is the obverse of that. It is not merely the negation of the concept of harm, but a positive advance in the other directiona point that has already eloquently been made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I submit that Amendment No. 11 does not take the law any further. The three matters that it emphasiseshealth, development and welfareare already emphasised in Section 31 of the Children Act 1989. As to the fourth matter,
A general question arises, which we debated fully in Committee, about whether we should follow the Scottish precedent. It is a very proper precedent. What Dr Johnson would have said about following the Scottish precedent, I know not, but be that as it may, there is no reason to believe that the needs of children south of the Tweed are different from those of children north of the Tweed. Therefore, I ask the Government to accept that what is already established law in Scotlandwhich, as far as I know, has not caused any difficultyshould be humbly and chivalrously accepted as part of the law of England and Wales.
Lord Judd: My Lords, reference has been made to Scotland. As I am half-Scottish, from time to time I have an internal battle between the Scottish half of myself and the English half of myself. Not simply on this issue, alas, but on other social issues as well, I find the Scots half of me gaining ground. It looks to the English part of me to do something about that to maintain the balance. I hope that my noble friend will listen very carefully to the arguments.
I support these amendments; indeed, I support the amendment to the amendment. They seem very helpful. On this issue, it is important to recognise consistency and commitment in all parts of the House. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who has been a constant reminder to the House of our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. For my full timespan, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In that committee, we were deeply concerned about the seriousness with which we followed through and recognised the responsibilities that our signature to that convention implied. It really is quite cavalier and dangerous to sign conventions if it is just a gesture with no follow-through or muscular commitment to delivering on them. We are dealing very much with the need for such muscular commitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is in some ways quite courageous, because it is not altogether fashionable to speak out about the responsibilities of parenthood, and I am glad that he does. I am not sure whether his and my views would coincide on forms of parenthood, because I am heartened that we as an imaginative society are recognising more broadly the kinds of parenthood that there can be and that newer forms of parenthood are in many ways providing just the kind of commitment and care that more traditional forms of parenthood have not always provided. I think that anyone who looks at the situation objectively will recognise that, but that does not mean that the newer forms of parenthood do not also need support and encouragement: of course they do.
I hesitate to take issue in any way with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, because I have unlimited respect for her experience and commitment. However, I ask her gently to reconsider some words that she used. She said that she thought it should be our response to ensure that parents are told what their responsibilities were. Frankly, that is a rather disastrous road to take. We should encourage parents and potential parents to understand what their responsibilities are. This is about education, not hectoring. We need to do a lot more in our schools in this respect, but I am absolutely convinced that, if we are to fulfil our responsibilities, these amendments are highly relevant. I cannot say how fervently I hope that, if my noble friend cannot accept themof course I hope that he may be prepared tohe can positively and not defensively spell out the full-hearted arrangements that make them unnecessary.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was going to suggest that the Minister might not be able to accept some of the amendments, given some of his speech. I shall divide my remarks into three parts. First, I shall not speak on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, does that magnificently, and I can say only that I support her attempt to get that to underlie the general legislation for children in this country.
Secondly, on supportive parenting, I want us to remind ourselves that we are talking about children in public care and the kind of parenting that those children want. I shall separate that from general parenting. Listening to my dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, whose pressing of the amendment I admire immensely, I felt that I should be sitting alongside my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Bolton, on the Conservative Front Bench and saying that this sounds like the nanny state. I am quite sure that many parents in this country feel very strongly that they are doing well to bring up their children. Alongside the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I probably see in my job in CAFCASS as many complex families as your Lordships can ever conceptualise. Many of those families are doing well even in adversity. We must remember that in the new constituted families of a variety of kinds, even where there are a number of step-parents, children do not always suffer. We are talking about preserving those elements of parenting when children are in public care. I ask the Minister for the reassurance that in
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I assume that in guidance, and in the work that local authorities are expected to do with these children, there will be more. That is why we want the elements pointed out by my noble friend; that is, health, good education and all that comes together in well-being. These children need more than anyone else. In the past, we have talked about corporate parenting, local authority general parenting and councillor parenting. We have just got to say that these children need the best professional help that we can give, but with love. That is really good, supportive parenting.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I realise that we are on Report, not in Committee, and I shall be brief. Like noble Lords who have already spoken, I am grateful to the Minister for having met us between Committee and Report stages to discuss these issues. I have put my name to these amendments because, like other noble Lords, it is very important that we have a strong, positive message as to what we expect from parents, with a clear definition of supportive parenting, irrespective of who those parents are. Such a definition is needed for educational material for schools; for health visitors and midwives; for those people who are likely to come across the female child in particular when she becomes pregnantaccepting that that often may be sadly an underage pregnancy; and for social workers who are looking after children in care, for whatever reason.
Currently, we could not find a clear, positive definition anywhere. I accept that the Minister probably will say that this cannot be in the Bill, but I hope that it will go into guidance and that he will pick up on the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who has outlined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child so often, where again a positive role model is set.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, as always, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has made some interesting points. She speaks with great knowledge and passion on these issues. I know that a great deal of work is going on in the promotion of the UNCRC. The noble Baroness often talks as she did today of the rights respecting schools; I hope to visit one soon. They appear to be having a significant impact on behaviour and on pupils respecting one another.
As has already been mentioned, the last Conservative Government not only ratified the UNCRC with cross-party support, but played a leading role in drafting the convention. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said on a previous amendment, we
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The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, present a welcome way in which the duty to promote a childs welfare is made more specific in what it is to cover and adds to the likelihood of the general duty having more effect and power. It does that without placing any extra burden on the Secretary of State. We are all searching for ways to ensure that children develop healthily, happily and safely into responsible and well adjusted adults. Supportive parents, giving trustworthy guidance, are essential for such development. Wherever possible, that should be the guidance and support of both parents.
As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, there are many single parents who do the most wonderful job, often in the most difficult circumstances. Their children thrive and they are a credit to them. I wonder therefore if the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, might like to sit next to me, because I genuinely believe that they do a marvellous job. But most single parents do not choose the situation in which they find themselves. We should do all that we can to ensure that both parents recognise and understandthe word used by the noble Lord, Lord Juddtheir duties and responsibilities to their children and that both parents, where safety is not an issue, should be allowed to play as positive a part in their childrens lives as possible. I am not a lawyerI am only married to onebut, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, Amendment No. 39 would be better placed in guidance.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this is such an important group of amendments that I cannot resist just saying a few quick words on it. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has insisted, promoting welfare is crucial. Some time ago my noble friend Lord Northbourne and I had rather hoped that citizenship would deal with responsible parenting and the promotion of it, and that it would be a crucial part of educating the next generation in what they should expect when they are parents, not just what they should expect from their parents after they have been in conflict with them. So it is about not what children expect their parents to do for them but what they expect to do as parents.
I very much hope that this good definition, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the other noble Lords who tabled Amendment No. 11 have put forward, can be used, although perhaps not in the Bill. When we consider the time we were parents, did we do it right? Did we bring up our children in the best possible way? There was not much guidance in those days for ordinary parents. We are talking here about those who we know have got problems and are damaged, as my noble friend has said. I support the intentions behind these amendments and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to incorporate what has been said in his reply.
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