THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

(HANSARD)

in the first session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIES

VOLUME DLXXXIV

FIFTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98


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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9th December 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Lord Coggan --Took the oath.

Family Life: Ministerial Study

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Ministerial Group on The Family has yet agreed on the scope of its work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the group chaired by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is looking at a wide range of issues concerned with family policy as part of the Government's manifesto commitment to strengthen family life. Additionally, a ministerial seminar was held last month to consider the best aims and means for the Government to adopt in promoting successful parenting. A report of the seminar has been prepared and is freely available from the Home Office special conferences unit.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which he delivered with charm, making it as easy as possible--characteristics for which he is so well known in the House and which cause many of us to hope that the rumours about promotion are true. In these days when the Government will have no secrets, why, despite a number of Written Questions, are the Government unable to explain what they regard as the definition of a family?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this Government do not seek to prescribe how people live

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their lives. I have a quotation for the noble Lord. It criticises those who,


    "cannot imagine that any social structure which does not accord with their ephemeral prejudices could be popular, acceptable, or morally defensible".
That comes from a book called Unfinished Business written by the noble Lord, which I have here. I found it in a bookshop in Moreton-in-Marsh. It was a secondhand bookshop. The price is shown as £13.99 in the UK only. That is to stop those nasty foreign people reading it. Then the infinitely sad palimpsest, "Reduced to £3.50"--but struck out. Then, "Reduced to £2"--also struck out. And finally, "Reduced to £1." I got it for 50p.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, perhaps I may remind my noble friend of the Conservative Party's traditional claim to be the party of the family. Can my noble friend therefore shed any light on why successive Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer failed to help the family? In fact, they whittled away any tax advantages that previously accrued.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sure that those points are well taken by the party opposite as it reflects upon the consequence of its policies in the form of the effective emphatic repudiation delivered by the electorate in May.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will the Minister answer one point about what constitutes a family? Is it restricted to situations in which the parents are married to each other, or does it extend to partners? Does it even extend to nominal parents who are of the same sex?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I venture to repeat what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, whose good wishes I warmly reciprocate. We are not in the business of preaching or prescribing. Families in our society vary infinitely. Let me give the example which does not fall within any of the categories enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. What about a widower who is bringing up his children alone? What

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about the widow in similar circumstances? Do they not need help? Do they not need our decent sympathy? I beg to suggest that they do.

Lord Henley: My Lords, will the Minister now answer the Question put by my noble friend Lord Tebbit and offer to the House a definition of what is a family. My noble friend asked a number of Written Questions on this very subject some months ago. The Minister merely referred him to the dictionaries in the Library of the House. I have looked at one dictionary which states that a family is a set of parents, children and relatives. Does the Minister agree with that? Does he agree that the family is confined to that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I looked up the Written Answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, which was:


    "Lexicography is not currently a function of Her Majesty's Government".--[Official Report, 29/10/97; col. WA242.]
We live in a diverse society. People are entitled to diverse views about the way in which they wish to run their lives. The ministerial group which is focusing on these issues is directing its attention towards the serious continuing problem of children being brought up in inadequate circumstances. It is not for me or the Government to define precisely what is a family unit. Does a family consist, for instance, of two people who married late in life and who, by definition, will never have children? I beg to suggest that it does. The mark of a civilised society is to accommodate diversity in others.

Baroness Young: My Lords, this is a serious matter. Will the Minister consider what one says to young people, especially in schools, or when bringing them up? He has defined a family widely--much wider than some of us would define it. With all respect to him, there is a great distinction between a widower and a widow, and some other single parent families, because their circumstances are different. What definition of a family--as a signal and in order to help them--would he give to young people?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if they asked my advice I would say that if you bring children into the world you have responsibilities. Bringing children into the world is not simply a private activity because other people are affected. Furthermore, I would advise them that if they had children I hope they would treat them with affection, respect and love, even if their chosen way of life was different from that of their parents.

Lord Parry: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the ultimate test of a family is that its members recognise that they are in one and are happy within it?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe there to be a good deal of virtue in what the noble Lord says.

The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, notwithstanding the fact that no wise government would seek to

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prescribe how people should live their lives, is the Minister prepared to affirm that marriage is the main means by which family life is strengthened in view of the fact that there are publicly made commitments to one another and a public interest in the successful parenting of the children within that structure?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is undoubtedly a public interest in the successful raising of families within married life. Not everyone has that infinite benefit. While recognising the validity of what the right reverend Prelate says, perhaps I may say with respect that not everyone has that good fortune. We know that a significant number of people who marry become divorced and we must consider what to do about the children of those circumstances as well as many other circumstances about which we all know so well.

Nuclear Weapons: Maintenance

and Disposal

2.44 p.m.

Lord Carver asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the estimated total cost in the current financial year of maintaining the capability to design, produce, maintain the safety of, store, move and dispose of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom; and of providing, operating, maintaining and disposing of the Royal Navy's ballistic missile submarine fleet, including its missiles.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, the estimated cost of maintaining the capability to design, produce, maintain the safety of, store, move and dispose of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom is around £410 million in the current financial year. A significant element of this figure is related to the decommissioning of old facilities, warheads and equipment and the management of historical waste.

The cost of providing, operating, maintaining and disposing of the Royal Navy's ballistic missile submarine fleet and its missiles is estimated to be some £530 million in the current financial year. This figure includes the operating cost of Trident, which has been estimated at £200 million a year over the 30-year lifetime of the system. It also includes some warhead-related costs and costs related to the phasing out of Polaris.

We are looking at the basis upon which cost estimates have been calculated in the light of operating experience and as part of the wider Strategic Defence Review.


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