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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Video Standards Council. Is my noble friend aware that a large majority of videos are classified by the BBFC? But the problem does not arise there; it arises with the illegal videos which either enter
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is right that under the Video Recordings Act 1984 no video can be legally sold in this country unless it has a classification from the BBFC. The police should take action to pursue illegal sales of videos.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, is it not the case that, unlike television and videos, the Internet is not regulated and that if there is such a problem in society, it is probably linked to the Internet and not to videos and television?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there is a real problem with the Internet, which is very difficult to control. That is why the Government supported the formation of the Internet Watch Foundation, which has a very difficult job to do. However, a recent joint study by the Home Office and the DTI indicated that it is having some success in controlling excesses on the Internet.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that helpful Answer. However, does he accept that it is not clear why, immediately before the National Audit Office reported, his department instituted a review of the Public Trust Office? In view of the fact that we are talking about extremely vulnerable people whose assets are not being properly monitored, will the noble and learned Lord assure the House that the department will not wait for the results of the review before putting into effect many of the NAO's recommendations?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have just told the noble Lord many of the steps that have been, and are being, taken. It is of value that a major independent review of the PTO is about to commence under Ann Chant, who is currently a managing director for Business in the Community. She is a senior and distinguished civil servant. She successfully tackled many of the intractable problems facing the Child Support Agency at the height of its troubles. The problems of the PTO are not remotely comparable. She is the right person for this important job.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord take note of the fact that in 1996-97 only 67 per cent. of those under the care of the Public Trustee Office received a visit, against 86 per cent. in 1992-93? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that all public trustee receivership patients receive an annual visit, as recommended by the National Audit Office?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, pre-1996, home visits were the responsibility of the welfare staff in the Lord Chancellor's Department, not of the Public Trustee Office although the PTO had been established in 1994. The performance then was unsatisfactory. The responsibility was given to the PTO in 1996. Since then there has been a materially improved service which complies with the criteria laid down by the Court of Protection. I intend to consider those criteria to see whether they can be strengthened to enable more visits to take place in the future.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is there not a duty of care which should be accepted by any agency handling the finances of people with mental incapacity, and also of people with learning disabilities? The noble Lord, Lord Rix, cannot be here today. I am sure that if he were, he would ask a similar question.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Northbourne set down for today shall be limited to three-and-a-half hours and that in the name of the Viscount Tenby to two-and-a-half hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
I suggest to your Lordships that in this country today we are facing a social revolution and that we would be wise to face that revolution with our eyes open. For thousands of years, marriage has been the norm. Young people in love have been forced by social sanctions to make a long-term commitment to stay together to support their children and one another. In the past three decades, things have changed. Last year, 37 per cent. of all live births in England and Wales were outside marriage, and for the under-20 age group, the figure was 89 per cent. Today, 2.7 million children live in 1.6 million single-parent households and 25 per cent. of the children born this year can expect to see their parents' marriage break up before they leave school.
Obviously marriage is facing a sharp decline in popularity; it is no longer enforced by social sanctions. Some may say that that is a good thing and I accept that there are arguments for it. It gives adults more freedom to make their own lifestyle choices. We live in a society where individualism is a dominant ideology. Others would say that we are sowing the seeds of an intractable social problem for the future.
Statistics show that children brought up in stable, happy, functional families have better life chances in terms of health, drugs, crime, educational achievement, employment prospects and as parents of the future. Also, single parents tend to have problems of poverty because they usually have to struggle to combine parenting with earning or to get by on benefits.
As to the cost to the community, the cost to taxpayers of paying for the children of neglect and abuse is very high. So also is the cost of supporting young single parents and marriage breakdown. One estimate puts the public cost of divorce and separation this year at £5 billion, and in addition to that there is the cost of housing two families instead of one. Children in foster care cost the taxpayers around £15,000 a year. Children in special institutions cost from £50,000 to £100,000 a year each. And today's situation may be only the tip of the iceberg. Local authorities are already jibbing at those costs, understandably so. But if the numbers of children needing public care increase, the taxpayers will jib at the bill; the quality of care will suffer; and less good care will lead to more illiteracy, more exclusion, more drugs and more crime.
Children who are emotionally deprived or brought up in poverty are a bad investment for the nation. Society is a stakeholder in successful parenting. Indeed, the Government have said that strong, secure families make for a strong, secure society. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech that children are our investment as a country. But an underclass of children is exploding in this country today, whose day-to-day life is bleak and whose future is frightening. I therefore put the proposition that there is an overwhelming social and economic case for society to welcome, encourage and support mothers and fathers who are prepared to make the long-term commitment to live together in a stable, loving, long-term partnership and to support their own children.
The crucial question is whether marriage is the best way to achieve that commitment. Here I come to arguing the case; I am taking sides. To date, marriage has been the best way that anyone has discovered. In a recent survey, 14 per cent. of people believed that marriage was out of date; 72 per cent. of families are still headed by a married couple; 82 per cent. of young people questioned in the survey still expect to marry.
Marriage is different from cohabitation because marriage involves long-term commitment publicly made. It fundamentally affects the lives of third parties, including the children and the extended family. In contrast, cohabitation normally expressly rejects long-term commitment. David Lock MP, speaking for the Government in an all-party parliamentary group the other day, said,
I shall spend just a small interlude on the nature of marriage. There is an illusion today that marriage is just about celebrating a relationship. But marriage should, or can be more than that. It can and should be a contract to develop a series of relationships. Most noble Lords will have had the experience of falling in love; of the changes which take place in a relationship when the first baby comes along and one is faced with the demanding little package which is noisy at both ends and leaks in the middle. Marriage is the cement which makes possible the smooth transition from one relationship to the next. It is the signpost and the support at the major crossroads in a couple's life.
I am not suggesting that we should put the clock back. We must find positive ways to move forward. Should we find ways of making marriage itself more attractive and more relevant to young people today? Or should we invent an alternative which offers an opportunity of supporting and enhancing the number of people who are prepared to make a long-term commitment? I hope that some speakers this afternoon will look at alternatives to marriage. I hope that others will focus on the role of the extended family, the importance of marriage for the mutual support of the partners in old age or disability and on marriage as a sacrament. I intend to focus on things which could be done to make marriage more relevant to young people today.
I shall have time this afternoon to touch on only one or two examples of the range of things which could be done to support marriage and to make marriage more relevant to young people today. I will not take time describing the excellent plans for marriage preparation, counselling and mediation and for support for parents which the Government have already put in hand.
I believe that responsible parenthood should be taught in schools based on agreed values about parental responsibility and long-term commitment. I believe that young people in school should also learn about the needs of children; the need for long-term commitment by both parents--for patient, non-judgmental love, for boundaries and example and, above all, for time. Is the law sufficiently unequivocal about the financial responsibility of parents, especially when a child is living away from home? There is also a need for funding for teachers to be trained to teach these things.
In his recent Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer sent a message of negative support for marriage. He took away £2.5 billion by withdrawing the married couples' tax allowance. He gave only £1.4 billion in additional support to children, but there was no visible support for parental commitment. Surely to support and encourage long-term parental commitment is the cheapest as well as the best way to support children in the long term.
Then there is the problem of men. I suspect that very few of those 1.6 million single mothers really want to struggle to bring up a family on their own. I suggest that what we need is 1.6 million suitable and eligible young men. Of course, cloning might provide the answer. However, short of that, the Government should focus more on young men. We need family values and suitable role models in our schools. We need education for relationships and parenting. We need to rebuild the youth service. We need to re-instate sport in schools. We need to redefine the role of young men in the family. We need young men who are educated, who have a job and will bring back a pay packet to share with the family.
Finally, I turn to changes to the institution and ceremony of marriage itself. For example, what about "two-tier" marriages, with a greater degree of commitment until the first child arrives, or even "three-tier" marriages? What about term marriages which last 21 years, at which point there is a reassessment? What about a memorandum of agreement, which would not be binding but which would help couples to sort out what they believe the
This debate is not just about marriage; it is about the kind of society that we want to live in. Our attitude to long-term commitment in marriage is a symptom of our attitude to one another, especially our attitude to our children. Children need their parents. Parents need one another. We, as a society, need to relearn how to live together.
Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for having tabled this important subject for debate. Indeed, full Benches in the Chamber even on a Wednesday show just how much importance many noble Lords attach to it. I should like to focus my five minutes on the social and economic role of marriage in areas of deprivation such as I have known in Merseyside and in east and south-east London.
Especially among those who have found themselves excluded from regular employment, the world of long-term commitments seems remote. Belonging to institutions or conforming seems to have nothing to offer. Instead, the spontaneous--what we feel like now--fills the horizons.
Being excluded from regular employment has crucial effects on marriage and family life. The noble Lord spoke about the need for suitable eligible young men, but the collapse of so much industry in Britain has left many men without any role. There are many homes where jobs are still unknown to anyone, whether male or female. In the 1991 census, 46 per cent. of children growing up in the borough of Knowsley were growing up in a home where no-one was in employed work; indeed, almost half the children in a large borough. While checking those figures with someone yesterday in Kirkby I receive the devastating comment, "Men are regarded as redundant"--in the home as well as at work. What worries me as much as anything is that the absence of a father who comes home with the dignity of a decent job well done leaves a boy with no positive or realistic directions to steer by.
All that supports the Government's mainline priority of getting people into work. Many of the areas that I have in mind are into their third generation of mass unemployment. A whole culture needs to be changed; that is, a culture that has assumed, with reason, that there would be no jobs. I know very well that there are mothers and carers who are doing real work, work that is of great value to the nation. We should at least consider paying them for that work. However, for the great majority, a decent job must be the expectation of both husband and wife--helped, I believe, by the working families tax credit.
If we are to support marriage better we need to break into that culture, deep set as it is now, that cannot conceive of long-term rewards for long-term commitment. The Church has a major part to play, with many still coming to us asking to be married in church. However, lengthy preparation groups, like parenting groups and those concerned with married counselling, are often declined because they, too, are seen to come out of the tidy institutional world.
However, we must not give up at the first refusal or indeed at the second or third refusal. The Government's consultation paper on support for marriage focuses helpfully on what health visitors might be able to offer in support. Among the professionals health visitors are regarded as relatively non-threatening persons. There is a fear of statutory social workers; a fear that they might take the children away.
I believe the Government should be ready to put fresh resources into other bodies that might provide bridges to bring parenting classes or marriage counselling within reach. I think of voluntary organisations. Rather naturally, I mention the Family Service Units, whose president I was for 10 years. Other bridges could be provided by nursery classes or playgroups, and perhaps we need to go a good deal further than that in building bridges. The detached youth worker has shown that he or she can often make lasting contacts with youngsters that school or the more settled youth club cannot reach. In Kirkby, that I mentioned, the Church's Centre 63 has a small team of detached workers around it with different groups, different skills and different objectives to bring to the young people with whom they are in touch.
In the end, it is the quality of marriages that they see that will persuade young people to attempt this great adventure. What I have called building bridges of human contact is a necessary step along the way.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow two speakers who have done so much to support the family and care for the welfare of children. The subject of this debate is extremely important. Marriage has been the basis of family life in this country and the foundation of our social life for centuries. It has not been the basis of a narrow view of the family but a view of the extended family covering far more than just a husband and wife.
We know that the success or failure of marriage has important implications for the individuals involved and for us all, for their quality of life, for their standard of living, for our welfare expenditure and taxation, for the growth of social problems and, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, for the degree to which we try to create trust in our society and create a certain kind of society. The current trends, which were mentioned, are clearly rather negative. The projections by the Government Actuary are even worse. The predicted increase in divorce and in co-habitation will mean that married couples will be in a minority in the population. It is against this background that I wish to make three points.
First, this is a debate about the public interest and not about our private values and private morality. I am sure that each of us has a different view of marriage. This is not a debate about our private views. The crux of this Motion, as I see it, is whether it is in the interests of our society as a whole that children are brought up within the structure of a marriage in which two parents have made a commitment to each other for life, or whether alternative arrangements are just as good. Should the Government be indifferent as between alternative family forms, or should they throw their weight behind marriage?
No one wishes the Government to start preaching to us. Nor should the Government pressurise people into choosing one particular kind of relationship. But the Government have after all formed a clear view on the need to help lone mothers return to work; on the need to provide extra childcare facilities; and on the need to extend support to help parenting. This is not viewed as preaching or interfering in family life. I believe that in a similar way the subject of marriage is not a subject on which the Government can afford to be neutral, especially when they have made so much of their concern for the welfare of children.
The reason I say this--and this is my second point--is the weight of the evidence. I confess that I had not looked at the evidence and the literature on this matter for some time. However, as I prepared for this debate I was surprised at the reviews of the literature which I read. The conclusion overwhelmingly points in one direction; namely, that judged by almost any indicator you care to mention--the state of mental and physical health; the emotional and intellectual development of children; the frequency of violence and child abuse; care for the elderly; and the likelihood of the relationship breaking up--marriage scores consistently ahead of other family forms.
The studies use averages, so there will be bad marriages and good alternative relationships. But the thrust of the evidence is clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, the reason has to do with commitment. Obviously any relationship involves commitment but a commitment to marriage is a commitment for life. We should not be surprised if that results in different behaviour. Surveys of attitudes show clearly that marriage is a basis for a stable family life. I was interested to note the recent St. Valentine's Day engagement of Zoe Ball to Fat Boy Slim. This shows that the ideal of marriage is alive and well even in the world of the 1990s "ladettes".
My third point is that, in the light of the evidence and because of the pain and cost caused by divorce, in my judgment the Government have no option but to show their unequivocal support for marriage. I believe that that starts with taxation. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said in his first Budget,
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating this debate and for prompting me to take part. His concern for the welfare and effective upbringing of children is formidable. However, he did not anticipate that yesterday was our 25th wedding anniversary.
I intend to speak from the position of someone who has been a step-parent for the past quarter of a century. Aged 25--I am appalled to recall--and with a confidence and seriousness that no doubt belied my youth, I moved into a marriage which involved not just the two of us but also the five others, then aged 13 to four. Of course today they are now almost all 30 somethings and, in the main, parents themselves of our seven grandchildren. I believe that some observations about step-parenthood may add a useful dimension to this debate.
First, the step-parent is able to examine the question: is the children's upbringing the result of nature or nurture? Step-parents examine that question from a special perspective. At those moments when what they say and do is annoyingly similar to one's own weaknesses or foibles, then you know that nurture has been effective. At the same time you live with and offer leadership to people who do not share your nature, but that inherited from their parents.
Secondly, I think it is necessary to face up to the fact that you are marrying not just a spouse but also the children. Novels, dramas and soap operas are full of the old chestnuts of cruel, uncaring and rejective step-parents who end up resenting the presence of the existing children because they only want a relationship with the parent. Clearly this is a useless strategy and quite unrealistic, but it happens. I can think of only a few actions that are worse than having to live with real hostility, especially if you are a child. Such an unfavourable situation is far from the desirable stable upbringing that one hopes will be in an emotionally and physically warm home.
Thirdly, there is the need to co-ordinate the multiplicity of relationships which are brought about by a parent's remarriage. There are usually three sets of grandparents--possibly four if it is a double remarriage.
There can also be the problematic task of integrating the children of two families into one. For example, a simple problem is where one eldest child has to surrender position. Throw in the possibility of a child of the new marriage and we have the proverbial new family, made up of his, her and their children. Except with the wisdom of Solomon--or greater--will this ever be an easy task for what has to be regarded as new marriage partners?
My own experience was simplified by the marriage continuing as it started, as one with a substitute parent, thereby minimising the multiplicity of relationships and enabling the family to move forward into its new life and the children to move on into their adulthood.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing it. The Church teaches that marriage is a particular form of relationship which God has made as part of the created order. It is therefore deeply rooted in our social instincts and is the means by which a man and a woman, over the course of their lifetime, may learn love together. By marriage a new unit of society is created, a couple stronger than the sum of the two partners. Just as a wedding is a public ceremony, so a marriage is a public fact. It is a reshaping of human life within the community and, as such, has a responsibility to the community to be a force for good in its life. Any weakening of marriage thus has serious implications for the mutual belonging and care that is exercised in the community at large.
In the light of this understanding of what marriage is, it will be evident that the "clear principles" required as a basis for a modern family policy cannot simply be derived from an exercise of analysing social trends. It is not because it "remains the choice of the majority of people in Britain" that marriage should be supported by the Government and the institutions of civil society but because it is fundamental to human flourishing.
Understandably, the Government have no wish to act either as preacher or nanny, but it is simply not possible, in my view, to have a "value free" or neutral policy here. An ideological commitment to pluralism, which rules out any possibility of one family form being
Having said that by way of introduction, there are some practical things which I believe can be done. First, too much attention is probably paid to the beginning and end of marriages. During the passage of the Family Law Bill the Church of England argued strongly that far more should be done to support marriages through the lifetime of a couple. No doubt more could be done by the Church and others to improve marriage preparation. But, surely, resources devoted to those periods when couples face difficulties--but before they think it is all over--would be of much more use. Of course, more thought needs to go into how that could be delivered in a way that was acceptable and effective. But ways can be found, such as One Plus One's research with health visitors in their role of support and encouragement. That has already been demonstrated.
Secondly, the Government need to send a strong signal to support married people in the choices they make. Now that the decision has been taken to end the MCA, then surely a government who recognise that marriage provides the best context for bringing up children and that it is still the choice of most people in our society must come forward with new proposals for supporting and strengthening marriage. The evidence so far is that we are spending less on marriage support now than when the question was raised first in the wake of the family law debates. That is not encouraging.
Thirdly, there is still much to be discovered about how marriages develop and change that would inform attempts to improve the prevention and treatment of marital distress. What is required is sustained and co-ordinated action, over time, by policy makers, professionals and the voluntary sector attending to those factors which can be addressed. That is why we, as a Church, have argued that the National Family and Parenting Institute should include marriage within its remit.
Lastly, existing knowledge about marriage, and the changes and pressures upon it in our day, need to be more widely used. Most marriages go through bleak periods from time to time. Anecdotal evidence, not least from the clergy and Church-based organisations such as the Mothers' Union, Family Life and marriage education groups, suggests that many couples are unaware of how "normal" it is to experience the difficulties they encounter and are badly equipped to negotiate change and challenge.
Many countries are recognising the important public policy issues in this area. Many of them--I single out Australia and Ireland as examples--have seen the need to devote some serious resources to strengthening marriage. The best way to defend marriage will to be show, in ways that can be demonstrated, that it best meets the contemporary and evolving needs of women, men and children, and therefore society as a whole. More needs to be said about the relationship of the
Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, before contributing to this important debate, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word in tribute to that great personality whom we lost overnight. I refer to Lord Beloff, who so greatly enriched our debates, our thinking and the literary riches of our country. If we are seeking one simple phrase that epitomised his life it would be the title of one of his early books, one of the most popular of the many that he wrote, The Intellectual in Politics. He was that intellectual par excellence. We shall profoundly miss his erudition, wit, perspicacity and friendliness and the insights which have helped to make our House into what it is and which will make his name immortal in the annals of this House and of our country.
We are once again grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the supremely urgent subject of marriage. I make no apology for having agreed to take part in this debate. We are given an average of six minutes for each contribution. That is soon going to be the average time for each marriage if we are not careful. Our job in those six minutes is to make some contribution to ensuring that the period for a marriage is greatly extended.
Now that we are a multi-cultural society, with many strands making up the diversity of our citizens, we ought to try to collect from each constituent something of enduring value which can contribute to our debate, and eventually towards the solution to one of the gravest problems besetting contemporary society.
We are not helped by some of the statements made by Ministers of the Crown, two of whom have already been referred to. In a recent television interview the Home Secretary argued that the Government, now representing a secular state, should altogether withdraw from moral judgments affecting marriage. The stability of the home is clearly no longer the charge of the Home Secretary. Likewise, the example of the Foreign Secretary in relation to the durability and sanctity of marriage, or the action of the Chancellor in withdrawing the last financial props that encourage the preference for marriage, do not augur well.
We have already paid an extortionately high price as a nation for our indifference to marriage. The People's Princess would still be alive today, and so would her lover, if they had observed the laws on the sanctity of the marital bond. Let us consult each strand of our multi-cultural society to see whether we can enucleate from them something that can help each one of us to contribute towards solving the massive problem that now engages our nation.
Perhaps I may say a word or two drawn from the faith and family tradition which gave birth to me. I wish to mention just two items. A 2000 year-old saying in the Talmud has it that, "He who divorces the wife of his youth, even the altar sheds tears over him". Why the altar? The altar is the instrument of sacrifice. If a marriage fails, it is a sign that the two spouses were not
Perhaps I may give a second, more personal illustration. I heard with pleasure the personal references by previous speakers. My wife often told me that when she left her parental home to be married to me, in a Paris synagogue where her father was the rabbi, her mother told her: "You'd better make a success of your marriage because, if you don't, I won't take you back home". Today, far too many think that if they do not succeed in their new home there will be an open door when they return to their parents or elsewhere.
The alternatives to success are far too easy today. Every marriage encounters its occasional problems and disappointments. But if the alternatives were too simple and the escape too easy, few would make enough effort to make their marriage succeed. The more precious it becomes by dint of the effort put into it, the less dispensable it turns out to be.
I speak as the father of six happily married children and eight happily married grandchildren. I am asked, "What is the recipe?" I answer that, in addition to the careful choice of carefully nurtured genes in the partners to be chosen, it is to close the door of your home to smut and indecency and to open it to the healthy whiff of social engineering to create a Rolls Royce of a home which is indestructible and full of comfort and security.
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