Lord Northbourne (Crossbench)
My Lords, in the context of the previous two speakers, I should like to put a proposition to the House. When any government introduce legislation to right an injustice against one group of society and inadvertently in doing so introduce an injustice against another group in society, it seems to me that that government have an obligation to right that wrong.
If, as in this case, the first group are powerful and a well organised lobby and the second group are weak and have no voice—the subject of a voice for parents is very close to my heart—the Government have a double responsibility to care for those who are disadvantaged. I am sorry that they do not seem to be taking seriously their responsibility in that respect. I was grateful to hear such assurances as the noble Baroness gave, but they did not to me carry great conviction. I would hope for a very much stronger assurance from the Front Bench before I would be prepared to let up on the pressure that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is bringing on the Government, quite rightly in my view, to take the matter further—whether through or beyond this Bill.
It is with a great sense of regret that I have to say that over the past two or three years—entirely contrary to their assurances on the subject—the Government have taken a number of actions which suggest that they are less conscious of the huge debt that we as a nation owe to families, to the work that they do, to the mutual caring that they carry out and to their job in raising children. The Government are much less conscious than they ought to be. They are not leading us in the direction of appreciating the role that families play in our society.
I shall not delay your Lordships for more than about another minute. Turning to the Bill, I take a different view to a number of speakers. There is plenty of time for the Government to come back tomorrow if they want to. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is capable of being amended in such a way that would overcome quite a number of the objections that the Minister has put forward. It is right to vote for the amendment and to try to force the Government to go at least one stage further either in accepting the amendment, and amending it in a suitable way, or in giving us much stronger assurances that they will really address this problem.