Boys and Fatherhood

– in the House of Lords at 5:34 pm on 24 January 2001.

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Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 5:34, 24 January 2001

rose to call attention to the problems experienced by boys growing up without the care of a father and to the case for more resources to be devoted to preparing boys to become responsible citizens and fathers; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, first, I want to pay tribute to the Government for identifying and addressing the problem of social exclusion. Recently they accepted that many of the problems of social exclusion have their origins in the problems of men and boys. The purpose of this debate is to draw attention to the failures and frustrations of some men and boys in our society; to look at the causes; and to explore some solutions.

It is in no sense intended as a criticism of single mothers. I see single mothers as one of the groups who are the victims of the changes which have taken place in our society in the past two decades. I fully recognise that women and girls have problems, too, but today I want to focus your Lordships' attention on men and boys.

Most men and boys in our society today are coping well with the seismic economic and social changes which have taken place in the past few decades. But a significant minority of boys are growing up uneducated, unsocialised and convinced that they have no future in the legitimate economy or as parents. In a recent survey conducted by Adrienne Katz of 1,400 boys, 13 per cent were found to have low self-esteem, low motivation and low confidence. Boys in that group said that they were uncertain about their responsibilities and depressed about their future. Twenty per cent of that group had been in trouble with the police; 11 per cent were deeply depressed or suicidal. I should point out that today three out of four suicides in our country are males. One of the group said, "There is no position in society for us to grow into". Those are significant words.

This is an underclass of young men, often detached from the socialising influences of the family, often believing that they are unfairly excluded from the opportunities of the consumer society. If we want to reduce crime, substance abuse and domestic violence and to strengthen families, we must give these young men back hope and self-confidence. To do so should be an essential plank in the Government's policy of "Opportunities for All".

Many of these disillusioned and depressed young men are growing up in unstable or non-functional families. Many have been abandoned by their father. About 750,000 boys today have no contact with their father. Others have a poor relationship with their father, who may be violent or take little interest in them. Yet other fathers are working such long hours that they cannot give their sons the time they need. Those phenomena have been neatly described as the "Dad Deficit".

In the previous generation the number of people marrying halved; the number divorcing trebled; and the number of children born outside marriage quadrupled. What are the causes of all those changes? I suggest, first and foremost, changes in the nature of work due to technological change and globalisation. In the past 50 years, 2.8 million traditional full-time men's jobs have been lost, many of those in the past 10 years. The Armed Services have been decimated, the mines have been closed and there is little demand for strength and physical courage. A strong but uneducated young man can no longer count on being able to support his family. Some families in our country have had no man in work for three generations. It is hard to come back from that.

There has been a reaction against Victorian moral values and shared responsibilities towards the pursuit of personal lifestyle. There has also been a shift in social attitudes which has tended to make women's and men's roles in the family interchangeable rather than complementary. Some men feel that they no longer have a role in their family of which they can be proud.

We should not seek to place blame for those changes; indeed, change can and should be healthy and good. But we must blame ourselves for the fact that we have lamentably failed to manage this change. We have failed to recognise the damaging effect that the change has had on some groups. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some statistics from the General Household Survey in order to put the picture in proportion. Today 66 per cent of families are headed by a married couple; 9 per cent are headed by a cohabiting couple; and 25 per cent are headed by a lone parent, of whom nine-tenths are mothers. There are 1.7 million single mothers, who often struggle against the odds to bring up a child, and 1.5 million boys who live in families without a resident father. Children need the security, predictability and commitment of two parents who love them. Boys need fathers. Harriet Harman recently said to fathers:

"Your children need not just your money--they need you".

Why do fathers matter? There is overwhelming statistical evidence that boys with a poor or non-existent relationship with their fathers are more likely to be violent, to do less well in school and to be bullies or to be bullied, and they are three times more likely to be involved in serious or persistent crime. It is known that the single most effective way to help boys is to encourage their involvement with their fathers. But there are other factors. Families without a father tend to be poorer. Sixty-five per cent of single-parent families grow up in poverty and are statistically more prone to stress, accidents, illness and abuse. Boys who are abandoned or abused by their fathers have a deep psychological wound which I have come across again and again. They feel that they have been rejected by the person who should matter most in their lives. Boys also need male role models to socialise them, show them how to be decent men and how to treat women and teach them to cope with their instincts and emotions. A father's interest can motivate a boy to work in school.

I interject here that the reason for socialising boys is not that they are so awful but that they have so much to offer. Some birth fathers will fail and set their boys a bad example. When that happens it may be better for a boy to have a surrogate or substitute father who can provide many, if not all, of the things that a birth father can offer. But from where are all these surrogate fathers to come? Only a limited number of suitable men are prepared to give other men's sons the love, time and interest that they need. Mentors, male school teachers and youth leaders can help, and I shall refer to them a little later.

What is the price of inaction? Any society that fails to nurture and socialise its children and pass on to the next generation accumulated knowledge, skills and experience burns up its social capital. The prognosis for such a society is not good, and it is a slippery slope. A boy who has not known loving care in the family will himself find it difficult to form a stable family or become a good father to his own children. The golden chain is broken. I believe that we need to look urgently at the way in which our society educates and socialises boys, especially those who are not lucky enough to have a caring father.

I turn briefly to the ways in which society can help, under three headings: helping fathers, helping good relationships within the family and helping boys themselves. As to fathers, there is a need for a fundamental change of heart and recognition that, however significant may be the role of the mother, for a boy the father's role is also very important. The first person who needs to accept that is the father himself. Until he is convinced of the importance of his role, he will not prepare and train for it, perform it properly or make the sacrifices involved. But mothers, teachers, social workers, employers and government also need to recognise the importance of a committed father's role.

To be a good father a man needs self-confidence, which primarily comes from being able to support his family, at least as we perceive the family today. It is difficult to see what other role a father can have. Fathers need a real job, not just a "MacJob". I suggest that to build self-esteem in fathers is an essential building block in socialising boys. Government should support caring fathers, especially those who are prepared to make a long-term commitment of some kind. Employers should recognise that fathers as well as mothers need time for their children.

I turn to relationships and family structures. Research shows that the outcomes for children depend to a great extent on relationships within the family. But it is also true that good relationships need the support of good family structures. Put another way, good relationships are much more difficult without good family structures. Relationships between parents are likely to thrive best if they are set in a long-term, committed partnership. At present, marriage appears to be the only formula devised by society to formalise and celebrate a long-term commitment. I think back to the debate last week. It is possible that there are better structures but we have not thought of them yet. Those who resist the support of marriage often talk of it as a kind of ball and chain, and to some no doubt it is. However, recent research in the United States shows that marriage can produce substantial benefits for both parents:

"On average married people have better health, longer life, more and better sex, greater wealth and better outcomes for their children".

Perhaps we need to look at the image of marriage and develop alternatives for those who are put off by the baggage which marriage has accumulated, or its cost.

I turn finally to support for boys as they grow up. A boy's failure in school can condemn him to failure for life. Boys need motivation to learn. The encouragement and interest of a father, or another man whom the boy admires, can be, and is, a powerful motivation for boys. There is an urgent need for more young men of integrity as teachers in our schools, especially at primary level, and as youth workers and mentors. Boys need adult male role models from whom they can learn how to behave and develop their masculinity in constructive rather than anti-social ways so that as they grow up they find legitimate outlets for qualities like courage, loyalty, the competitive instinct and love of adventure.

As boys and girls grow up they both need opportunities gradually to grow away from the family towards independence. Essentially, they need somewhere to go and something to do outside the home, because hanging about the street corner is for most boys an almost certain precursor to juvenile crime and substance abuse. Boys need opportunities to develop self-confidence, social skills, friends, companionship and a sense of belonging. All boys particularly need support when they come to the transition from school to training or work, and from living at home to living independently.

It is a scandal that so many local authorities have been allowed to decimate their youth provision. In this context many of the better local authorities spend over £300 per young person per year. The figure for Brent is £18, and I am aware of others which are not dissimilar. It is a scandal that successive governments have allowed local authorities to sell off playing fields. As in France, every community should have access to playing fields, walks, cycle tracks, sports facilities and good youth services, both statutory and voluntary. There is a huge job of work to do in rebuilding facilities for young people.

The Government's Connections programme is an excellent initiative, but it is no good having such a programme if there is nothing with which to connect. The Connections programme must have the necessary services and opportunities for young people. There is a need for activities which boys and their fathers can share. Youth provision should not be an optional extra.

As an alternative to education, training or work there should be an option for every 16 and 17 year-old boy to spend six to 12 months in an environmental and community service corps. That would be voluntary, residential--away from home--and modestly paid. It would train young men in personal health, fitness and basic life skills and develop self-esteem and the ability to work in a team through adventure, endurance and calculated risk. Also, by giving back service to the community, it would be a stepping stone to independent living and enhance a young man's confidence and social skills and therefore his subsequent employability. A regular routine, feeling valued, friends and a sense of purpose would reduce exclusion and depression and enhance future prospects for a young person. The scheme would cost money. But so does building prisons. Surely it is better to spend money building up people than building prisons.

Finally, there is the new citizenship and PSHE curriculum. That offers a powerful motive for changing attitudes and developing skills. I believe that every child before he leaves school should learn about the parenting needs of children and the consequential responsibilities of parenthood; the need to prepare for parenthood; that in the age of effective contraception, to conceive an unwanted child is a form of child abuse on the part of both parties; the importance of considering and respecting other people's needs; and how to communicate with others, and so on.

Some of the changes which I have suggested may seem difficult and some may seem impossible. But, on the analogy of global warming, if the outcomes of past and present policy are leading us to disaster, the sooner we start to address the impossible the better. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am sure that, with the support of the whole House, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in introducing the debate has used any time flexibility. I hope that other noble Lords will ensure that they keep to their allotted times.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 5:52, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for instigating the debate and for introducing it with such vigour and commitment. His concerns for young people are well known. He has covered much ground today already. His timing of the debate is, whether by chance or foresight, excellent, preceding, as it does, a conference tomorrow at the National Children's Bureau entitled "From Lads to Dads" which will explore issues relevant to the role of fathers. As a mother of two sons I am particularly interested in issues related to the development of boys. I, too, believe that they should and have much to offer.

Today I shall examine three questions. First, who are disadvantaged boys? Secondly, what may be the impact of that disadvantage? Thirdly, what are the implications for national and local policy and practice? The area is extremely complex and worthy of much research and discussion. I look forward very much to the contributions in the debate today.

Your Lordships will know that there is a vast literature on the emotional lives of children, suggesting that in many cases boys are not encouraged to talk about or show emotion, or to communicate with empathy. That is a real potential problem between fathers and their children, and surely even more so if other disadvantages are present.

So what is disadvantage? This is not necessarily material, although it may be; the materially well-off may be emotionally disadvantaged. Disadvantage is when circumstances so impinge on a person that his self-esteem becomes damaged which may lead to destructive behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, vividly described that. Boys are subject to unrealistic media portrayals of masculinity and manliness, expectations of being tough, male unemployment, families without fathers or positive male role models, bullying and discrimination of many kinds. It is little wonder that so many boys perform badly at school in their early years at least, and that mental health problems and suicide rates are high among young men. A boy growing up without a father figure may be more dependent on other role models. He may not have role models such as teachers at school. He may be vulnerable to distorted impressions of what masculinity is. Women are often charged with the affective, caring parts of schooling and of rearing children.

When I was involved in child development courses in schools I knew only one male teacher of child development. I knew only one boy who ever took the course. We cannot afford to exclude boys and men like that. They need positive encouragement to think of themselves as jointly responsible for parenting. That is increasing.

What is the impact of disadvantage? I believe that there may be confusion with identity and the lowering of self-esteem. If people do not feel good about themselves, they are less likely to care about others. They may turn to risk-taking and unsociable, even violent, behaviour.

We are concerned in this country with teenage pregnancy rates. The Government have set up a special unit to investigate the issue. In my experience girls do not get themselves pregnant. Do we know enough about the fathers? Are they disadvantaged? What is going on here? It is sad to be an unintentional parent; it is difficult to be an immature one. Boys can of course walk away. Many do. Surely, we need more research and interventions for young men, as well as young women, in relation to teenage pregnancy and more education about relationships, including parenting for both boys and girls.

I believe that young people are mainly responsible and care and that they deserve a voice. They worry about making good relationships. Recent research into young people's health concerns by the Institute of Education stated that,

"the most striking finding was an abiding concern amongst young people about the effects of relationships with family and friends on their sense of well-being" and a need for more emotional support.

Research by the National Children's Bureau on pregnancy and parenthood showed that boys in public care wanted to get married and have children early, whereas boys in school wanted to delay marriage and parenthood. The boys in care wanted the love and the fathering they had not had. Sadly there was little evidence that they knew how to go about it or how to handle complex relationships. Work among young fathers in prisons by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence--I declare an interest as a trustee--showed a desire to be a good father and a view that life skills education in prison was of more use than many other activities there.

These pieces of research incline me to think that we need to listen more to what young people say they need and to base our responses on actual needs.

What can be done to help? Programmes such as Sure Start may well make a contribution to helping disadvantaged children. Sex and relationships and citizenship education in schools encourages young people to discuss together their hopes and expectations about relationships. The national healthy schools standard encourages incentives for inclusive education and the creation of a positive ethos in schools where good relationships are emphasised and encouraged. There are examples in communities which help boys to explore issues relating to masculinity and fathering, such as the Active Fathers project run by the Community Education Development Centre in Coventry. Such initiatives should be encouraged and, very importantly, evaluated so that we learn what is working. As a basis for action, more research should be carried out into the relationship between disadvantage and parenting.

We have touched on a key issue of parenting for society. Parenting is a difficult job in the best of circumstances. We need to support and encourage men and women to do the job well and to develop incentives, in particular for disadvantaged youth.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I wonder if I might draw to the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, the fact that we have now gained three minutes.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench 6:00, 24 January 2001

My Lords, this debate is an extension of the debate that we had last Wednesday on marriage and the family, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us this further opportunity to debate a subject of very great interest and importance for the future of our nation. However, this debate is rather more specific. It concentrates on the importance of fathers in families as role models for preparing boys to become good fathers, and thereafter good citizens.

As the Member of Parliament for Croydon North East, I recollect attending a function in my constituency, when I said to a young man aged about 11, "What are you going to do when you grow up?", to which he replied, "I want to be like my Dad". There your Lordships have the answer. There can be no doubt that the influence and example of our parents shapes our future attitudes and our success in life--sometimes, sadly, our failures--and, in addition, of course, the future success or perhaps failure of our nation. Of course, it is true that for the first few years of a child's life the influence of a mother is paramount. Your Lordships may recall the words of James Barrie:

"The God to whom small boys say their prayers has a face very like their mothers'".

But later in a child's life, at about the age of seven, the father becomes the role model for boys.

In last weeks' debate, and again today, it has been pointed out that some 25 per cent of our country's children live in one-parent families--about 22 per cent of them with their mothers rather than with their fathers. We may not like it, but it is a fact of life. It is therefore essential that we seek to fill this gap. That is the importance of today's debate.

In my village of Brasted, Kent, is the headquarters of RPS Rainer, of which I am a vice-president. The Royal Philanthropic Society is one of our country's oldest charities, founded in 1788 to overcome and to assist the increasing number of homeless children then infesting the metropolis. So the subject that we are debating today is not exactly new. I believe that Samuel Johnson said that all men--he probably meant women, too--need to be reminded more than they need to be informed. This is not a new problem.

For some 200 years, RPS Rainer has been working with disaffected young people through 45 projects across the United Kingdom. Because this debate is time limited, I mention only three with a direct bearing on the topic of the debate this evening. The first is the Breaking the Cycle project, which targets the most disaffected and excluded young people in order to help them to develop their potential and to progress to become fully integrated members of society. The second is the Fresh Start programme, which works with socially excluded young men, many of them in prison, some 65 per cent of them fathers themselves, with responsibility for caring for their young babies and children. The third is the Simply Dads initiative--a parenting project for young fathers.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is absolutely right when he says that children need the security, predictability and commitment of two loving parents. A comment was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in last week's debate that it may be that by the year 2020 the number of married couples in this country will be in a minority. The noble Baroness said that if that materialised, we should become one of the first countries in history in which marriage is not the basis of society--a worrying thought. Given those comments and the statistics, we have to find some way of giving boys a role model to guide them in their path to maturity. Of course, partners can do this, but many boys will be living with their mothers and will not have that advantage--hence the importance of the initiatives of the kind that I have mentioned and the programmes that have a track record of success.

Time does not allow me to carry forward this debate from fatherhood to good citizenship, which is, of course, a natural progression. But, fortunately, the next speaker will be my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He and I have a joint interest in citizenship initiatives--he as chairman of the Citizenship Foundation, I as the founder president of the Institute for Citizenship. I make only one point. Good citizenship is not a matter of chance. It needs to be taught. Thankfully, it is, at long last, now part of the national curriculum.

It is equally true, of course, that today's boys are tomorrow's good citizens. In youth, they also need to be taught. I suggest that they need to be taught the five Rs, which, I remind your Lordships, are reading, writing, arithmetic, right and wrong. At best, those subjects probably can be taught, by example, only by mothers and fathers. Where there are no fathers, substitute fathers are important. The kind of mentoring programmes, run with such success over the years by RPS Rainer, and by other bodies such as local authorities and churches, are to be encouraged and applauded, as we this evening rightly applaud the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for enabling us to again debate this very important subject.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 6:08, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for this debate. I should also like to say how very much indebted we are to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for the work that he has done, ever since his days as Speaker, in the field of citizenship education. He has given a wonderful lead. If I may be permitted to disagree with him about one thing, it is in relation to his quotation from Johnson. I believe that it was the fact that we needed to be not so much informed as reminded. The problem is that many of those who are the subject of our debate this evening, the disadvantaged boys and young men in 2001, are in a position in which they need to be informed, and where there is too little to be reminded of.

The first point that I want to make to the House is that I do not see this Motion, which urges us to give more support to disadvantaged boys and young men, as directed to the Government. It is far too easy to look to the Government in these days. In many respects, the Government try to do too much and are expected to achieve too much. We need to throw back the ball of responsibility to the population at large--individuals, businesses, groups, churches, NGOs, charities, anybody and everyone. Too many think, "That is not for me". In saying that, I refer particularly to the business, commercial and professional world.

If one wanted to be simplistic, one would say that all of us are made up of two broad streams of attributes--heart, feelings, emotions and intuitions on the one hand; head, mind, intelligence and reason on the other. Those disadvantaged in terms of their rational faculties--I suggest that the group we are concerned about are certainly in that camp--are almost inevitably trapped, too, in their emotional ones. They often feel beleaguered, besieged and outcast, and hence suffer exaggerated fears and phobias, unmitigated by the intelligent analysis which is so important in balancing our emotions; and this in a world increasingly dominated by rational, materialist factors.

Those who fail intellectually are often emotionally illiterate. Abundant research has shown that that is so. Tragically, and again predictably, many of those we are concerned about merely exhibit the disadvantages of their parents. There is a terrible continuum of disadvantage which is so difficult to break. In the marriage debate in the House last week a good deal was said about that.

I should like to turn to a more difficult general issue. I refer to the context in which disadvantage occurs. The causes lie very deep and sometimes we make life easy for ourselves by not facing them. We live in an ever more competitive and aggressive world. Those two things go together in today's entrepreneurial society. It is an ever more insatiable society, because the modern market economy seems ignorant of the concept of sufficiency. It is a society ever more starkly materialist. The notion of vocation is becoming all but redundant. It is a society ever more self-centred, with the ideals of public service and the common good dying in our time. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much; and not at all if looked at from the ranks of the disadvantaged. The Social Exclusion Unit has produced a bumper edition entitled A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal. It makes sober reading and I recommend that those who do not have it should get it and read it. It shows how deeply we are in the mire.

It is important that we look these contextual realities in the eye because they have a profound cultural influence on those boys and young men, often delinquent, that we are talking about. We must also face the fact that the effect of the aggressive, insatiable, selfish ideology which now dominates not only this country but the western world begets in the disadvantaged an equal and opposite response--aggressive, selfish, often ruthless and often anti-social. It is no good our saying, "Theirs is unlawful and wicked conduct". From their vantage point, so much of what passes for success in our world has the characteristics of amorality, if not immorality. I refer to excessive greed and total selfishness. I am afraid that the society of which we are part finds it almost impossible to do much about that.

These young men and boys come from broken, dispirited homes--often no homes. They have no hope. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, they have no self-esteem. They have no good role models, no respect and no self-respect. They have no sense of moral worth and no belief in the relevance or use to them of conventional morals. They have little guidance. They have no moral identity or autonomy and therefore have no ability or wish to analyse and reason morally. It is a crippling combination. With the emotional illiteracy goes that siege mentality which is cousin to alienation.

I should like to say a few words about penal policy. Maltreated dogs bite; so do maltreated humans. Dogs are shot; humans are locked up. What is the effect? What do we do to boys in detention and young men in our prisons? Frankly, it is a farce; a tragic pathetic farce; a self-defeating, ludicrous farce. If the great British public realised that we spend more on boys and young men in our penal institutions than we would if we sent them to Eton, perhaps they would sit up and take a little intelligent notice. But we as politicians must.

There is too much political name calling. The days when women and blacks were the subject of crass generalisation have, thank goodness, gone. But how often do we resort to "yobs" and "hooligans", with no distinction between those to whom we are referring and no realisation of who they are, where they come from or what they do. I could wax eloquent about the Football (Disorder) Act, but I shall not. For much of the time we do not take them seriously.

I am deeply grateful to David Blunkett for the leadership he has shown in getting citizenship education onto the curriculum from Autumn 2002. We must not expect the schools to do that huge task for us, but how crucial it is that 5 per cent of the curriculum time will be devoted to a range of topics and to an enlargement of faculties that are crucial to the underpinning of citizenship. A sense of moral autonomy and of the ability to contribute to society are hallmarks of a good society.

Finally, I should like to refer to a programme being run by the Citizenship Foundation which may give the House a practical example of what can be done. It is designed to inculcate moral reasoning and to get young offenders to "flip" their attitudes towards law, society and authority by getting under their skin and putting them in the way of moral dilemmas which will engage them in thinking about the moral consequences of their conduct. One example is of a bail hostel located in an affluent area where most of the locals object. The young offenders are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the objecting locals, particularly where some of them have been the subject of burglary and violent crime. Funding of the project by the Youth Justice Board has led to some startlingly good results.

One of the areas in which we are backward in this country is in the development of moral reasoning and moral autonomy and getting young people suddenly to become excitedly aware of the fact that they can reason morally, that they are morally autonomous, that they can have an agenda of their own and that they are human beings.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Crossbench 6:18, 24 January 2001

My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving your Lordships the opportunity to discuss this important subject. No one has been more tenacious in drawing to the attention of your Lordships the need to support the family. It is somewhat daunting to follow such valuable and informed contributions.

We are living through a period of great social change. It is not something we can resist. For example, we can celebrate that in our society more and more people are living to an advanced age. In many families there are now four generations alive and in contact with each other. On the other hand, the birth rate has fallen and the size of the family unit continues to reach new low levels. In addition, geographic mobility, which is important in reacting to changing patterns of employment, means that far fewer people now live their lives in the area of their birth surrounded by a network of relatives and longstanding friends. And yet the means of keeping in touch with relatives and friends have never been easier.

However, as has already been referred to, not just the size of the family has changed but the structure of family units is now so much more varied than in the past. Yet we should acknowledge that the concept of the perfect family is probably more a theoretical notion than a practical reality. Although it is understandable that concerns are expressed about the facts, helpfully made clear by my noble friend Lord Northbourne--namely, that more couples prefer to live together rather than marry, that more marriages end in divorce, that more divorcees remarry and that more children are born out of wedlock--that need not necessarily present a picture of woe or despair.

I hope that noble Lords will allow me a personal reflection. When I began work as a probation officer, in some courts I attended we were faced with a stream of women living wretched lives because they were socially and economically locked into marriages in which the father of their children spent most of the family income on his own interests at the expense of the well-being of the family. These women were trapped in marriages that did not support them or their children and they had access to no other funding. Even if the court made an attachment-of-earnings order, the men often changed their employment. However, what was even worse and more striking for me was the prevailing attitude that this was the women's lot in life.

These experiences and others led me, as a mere man, to be an advocate of the rights of women: for them to have equal status with men, to have equal choice in their lives and to have equal freedom. Since those days, I think that we should acknowledge that some progress has been made. Perhaps it is not yet enough, but sufficient progress has been achieved for some men to have found it extremely difficult to adapt to the changed power of women in our society. As has already been pointed out, many men have found it easier simply to walk away.

However, the inability of some men to operate as partners in adult relationships by sharing responsibilities both inside and outside the home is not a reason to question the social and economic benefits of pursuing policies which are intended to enable about 51 per cent of the population to fulfil their potential and to contribute to the wealth and health of our society.

The task before us is to help more men understand the need to change and to help them develop new attitudes and skills. In many instances, more men are now able to claim that they represent "the new man", supporting the family unit, however that is constructed, and playing a much fuller role in parenting. However, we should not underestimate the change this entails. In the past, even the most conscientious fathers rarely changed nappies or felt inclined to cross the line they perceived to be the province of the mother. For that reason we need to acknowledge that full participation in the parenting of children is something that few men would claim to have had a role model for in their own fathers or that their mothers prepared them for it. In general, men do not have a great body of experience of a shared commitment to parenting. That is something which needs to change. It is for that reason that we should not become too discouraged if progress towards such a high ideal is slower than we would wish or that some men simply prefer to go absent.

I suggest that the challenge before us is threefold. First, we must be clear in all we say and emphasise in all our policies that becoming a parent is not only a huge responsibility but that it is also a lifetime commitment. Parenthood is not something to be tried to see whether it is enjoyable. It is not an experiment. It is something from which there is definitely no escape clause. Some modern marriages might have clauses of that kind but parenthood is for the long haul. Whatever the age, the social circumstances or the family structure, parenthood is the activity in life which should endure. It involves putting first and always the needs of the child, however inconvenient that may be. Parents might seek freedom to please themselves but dependent children cannot. Children have a right to look to their parents not only for physical care and nurturing but also for love, constancy, security and optimism about the future. Too often, children have to accommodate to the needs of the adults in their lives. They deserve better than that.

Secondly, it follows that every child should be a wanted child. It should be wanted as a cause for joy and celebration. Never before have both men and women had available access to contraception. Probably never before has sex been so openly discussed. Pregnancy should not occur as the result of ignorance. Adults are free to choose their lifestyles but we must emphasise that this should not be at the expense of defenceless children.

Thirdly, we should highlight the positive changes and celebrate good progress. For example, more men now attend ante-natal classes; more men are involved in childbirth; and more are willing to offer support to mothers. More men are willing to adjust their patterns of work in support of their wives and partners. More men are comfortable with celebrating the achievements of the women in their lives and take pleasure in their successes. More men enjoy playing a full part in all aspects of family life, which is something that we should promote, celebrate and encourage.

We are all agreed that the family is at the heart of society. In supporting the family, we need to be positive about encouraging and enabling men to be full partners in this great responsibility. It is for that reason that debates of this kind are so welcome.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 6:26, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Northbourne for providing us with this opportunity. I should like to take advantage of it and pay tribute to his consistent and determined efforts on behalf of disadvantaged young men over many years.

Some weeks ago, I observed a scene of young men likely to have been without the care of a father. A 17 year-old was telling a group of other young men and two young women of his recent mugging. The narrator was bare-chested and only around 5 feet 5 inches, but of a very athletic build. His mobile phone had been stolen by a gang and he felt lucky to have escaped so lightly. His audience was enthralled by his account. Afterwards, the young people spoke of the "bloods" in London. A "blood" was originally a term used to describe a youth gang in Los Angeles. Playing loudly in the background was music which featured the strong language which the boy had used, including references to women as "prostitutes" as well as other pejorative terms.

Young men who lack a good, consistent male role model may confuse masculinity with brutishness. This is why mentoring is so important. The most vivid example of mentoring for boys I have seen was featured several years ago in a broadcast of the BBC "Panorama" programme. An Afro-Caribbean professional male was shown helping an Afro-Caribbean boy with his reading and writing at school. We were told that the man would regularly help the young boy in this way. The climax to the mentoring scheme was a visit made by the boy to the man's place of work. The Afro-Caribbean New Yorker, who was the originator of this work, came to London. The response here was mixed. An obstacle came in the shape of the leader of a London authority who could not understand why the mentor had to be a man rather than a woman. Several years on, mentoring is now the bread and butter of well-recognised groups such as the Divert Trust, the Prince's Trust, the Depaul Trust and RPS Rainer, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Weatherill.

Last week I visited the Westminster Youth Offending Team. It was with great pleasure that I listened to their way of working with young people, often boys with absent or uninvolved fathers. They used mentoring together with restorative justice and close partnerships with others from different disciplines to try to crack the nut of offending behaviour. I admired the experienced staff and their dedication to their work. It seemed to me that their approach, based on good principles, deserves to meet with success.

Perhaps I should sound an optimistic note in response to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who made some realistic but rather sad observations on the current penal system for young people. Some good work is being undertaken out there. The staff in the team are grateful for the resources generously made available for their work by the Government. However, my main concern remains that too much will be expected of them; namely, that public frustration at growing youth crime will put an end to this model, which promises good results with many young people. One has constantly to emphasise the great challenge these teams face.

The youth offending team ran an anger management group for young offenders, led by a female probation officer and a male police officer. Youth organisations will often try to pair up men and women as group leaders. This allows young people--our boys, for instance, or young men without the care of a father--to experience an example of a man and woman working closely, co-operatively and constructively together. It is a widely-held concern among psychologists that young men who see parental couples only arguing--if a couple they see at all--will not know how to sustain a relationship with a woman. My noble friend Lord Northbourne alluded to this when he described the "golden chain", his example of couples working together for their own good and the good of their family.

I suggest that this area of good practice needs to be given special priority. It is vital that boys can engage with a good adult of their gender, ethnicity and social background; it is equally vital that boys can engage with a mixed gender couple of their own ethnicity and background--such as the house master and his wife that my father had affection for when he was at public school.

To conclude, over the past 20 years the British family has been undermined on many fronts, as we have heard, one of the most important being the lack of investment in housing, health and education. Investment then may have helped families to deal with the other great social changes they have experienced. We now need to resource measures such as mentoring, which can mitigate the dread effects of this decline. We need to invest in and repair our faltering public services to prevent further deterioration. That the Government are beginning to address these two closely associated issues is most welcome.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 6:32, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for calling attention to the problems experienced by boys growing up without the care of a father, and for his call for resources. I shall speak specifically of Caribbean/British boys.

This issue has exercised my mind considerably, having worked with unsupported mothers in the Deptford area over some years. I ask myself the question: what can be done? How will resources resolve the question of preparing boys to become responsible citizens? Each time I am left with a further question: when does a boy become a man? We have the equation: man/woman, boy/girl. We know that a girl becomes a woman when she reaches puberty. Can we say the same about boys--or do we say that only about white boys?

I pose this question because I often hear from fellow Peers and people outside how well they were looked after by their "boys" in the colonies. "Hearts of gold" was often the expression used by some. I had the temerity to ask how old were these boys. Imagine my surprise to learn from some that they were often as young as 18 and certainly as old as 70. My predicament is whether there is a magic moment when black boys become men--or do white boys become men before black boys? I leave it to those with wisdom to enlighten me because I am miles away from a solution.

What then is the reality of the situation with which we must deal? Let me try to create a little setting. I ask noble Lords to reflect, if you will, on your first visit to this House. Try to recall how awed you were with the splendour and greatness of this building, its contributors and their contributions. I suspect that, like me, you felt rather proud to be part of this great nation. Imagine the similar impact that this experience has had on the billions of tourists who have viewed this Palace. I ask noble Lords to think back: did you see anyone who looks like me? Did you receive any impression that black people were part of the tapestry of this nation?

There is one place where a black person can be seen; that is in the painting of the Battle of Trafalgar, where a negro is depicted as a snitch. I wonder whether noble Lords realise what impression that has on a young black person.

I ask noble Lords to imagine how the attitudes of those around us are formed. Interestingly, I know that it is from buildings such as these and from museums that our textbooks are developed. One is forced to believe that it is not by accident that one group of people have, throughout history, been treated less favourably than their white counterparts. We need now in this country greater resources to facilitate the unlearning that is required to change the attitudes of those who have been so treated and to establish a pride of belonging.

Much has been done, but much more needs to be undertaken if we are to find a solution. We must, first, recognise that the re-education of black children is everyone's responsibility. We need school booster groups: organisations of those who have survived this crisis and who are committed to the survival of their brothers and sisters. Such people are around and must be utilised. An effort must be made to restore the school as the nerve centre of the community by forming consortiums of various organisations and institutional representatives of the community, including even the street academics. The Teenage Kings is an organisation of young people who are determined that they want to improve their community as part of the whole, who respect and understand the National Anthem.

The future of Britain could well be determined by what this debate puts on the table today. If only half of it is taken on board and put into action, I believe that we can build a society of good citizens--but we must be aware that it is not going to be the same as the one that was there some years before.

I hear much talk about role models. I understand that there is not one Chair in any university in this country that is occupied by a black person. I can assure the House that over the years we have produced worthies, who can be role models to the up and coming generation. There is not one theatre owned or managed by a black person or group. If we examine the eminences in the Church, we can count on one hand those who have managed to break through the glass ceiling.

Every individual needs to feel valued and acknowledged to promote dignity and self-sufficiency. We should all enjoy, regardless of class, colour or creed, all that society has to offer. A two-parent family is desirable but not always possible; but a supporting community, leading to a supportive society, builds individuals, encourages growth and gives a wholeness to the creation of good citizens. As the poet said:

"It ain't the rap, it's the map.

It ain't the man, it's the plan".

Photo of The Bishop of Blackburn The Bishop of Blackburn Bishop 6:40, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us this opportunity to debate what is often an overlooked aspect of a much wider concern and provision for the young--a need which few, if we are honest, know how to address and which, therefore, many agencies both statutory and voluntary simply allow to go by default.

It seems to me that this is a debate about responsibility--duty. It is about our responsibility to society for a group of disadvantaged younger people, distinguished on this occasion in a quite politically incorrect way by their gender. It is also vitally concerned with providing appropriate support and resources in education, training and mentoring so that those disadvantaged young men may become citizens and fathers with a sense of responsibility themselves which both these states of life demand in a civilised society.

Of course, as has been said, in an ideal society the responsibility for the nurture into becoming a responsible adult would belong to the family--to the young man's parents and grandparents. But in our present society, where people now speak openly of the dysfunction of families and of single mothers who sometimes struggle to raise their teenage children--indeed, I suspect that we all struggle at times to raise teenage children--role models for male citizenship and for fatherhood may be lacking.

It is not for nothing that I believe a responsible government have been concerned to make citizenship and personal social education part of the national curriculum. I believe that this is an attempt to address real need. However, as I have said on previous occasions in your Lordships' House, we must not expect too much of what even the most gifted teachers can achieve in the nurture process. That is made particularly difficult these days in the personal relationships that are required between teachers and their students, or pupils, in order to develop the kind of models about which we are talking. In this age, when people go to litigation so easily for matters that would not have been dreamed about in a former time, this aspect of the teaching profession is made extremely difficult. I also wish that we could engage more in those extra-curricular activities, both sporting and cultural, that were such a feature of education and which did so much to fashion so many of us in an earlier generation.

Of course, as we have heard, the reasons for young males being disadvantaged are complex. In some areas it is the changing nature of employment where macho-type jobs in heavy industry, which, quite frankly, exhausted those who worked in them, have been replaced by work opportunities which in that particular culture seem more appropriate to young women. Mining and shipbuilding come quickly to mind. However, we must not forget that this is now increasingly true in agriculture. It is not simply an urban problem; it is also a rural problem.

As has already been said, it is, above all, the changing roles and expectations between male and female brought about during the last century that have led to young males feeling a lack of identity and of self-worth. It can sometimes appear to them that society is only--or mainly--concerned with women's rights and needs, proper as those campaigns and that development have been, in my opinion. But if you are a disadvantaged male, it appears rather different than if you are an advantaged person. We hear much of teenage mothers, but hardly anything about young fathers and their needs and responsibilities, or their part in parenting.

If we are to address the situation outlined in the noble Lord's Motion, we need, above all, to motivate those disadvantaged young men. We need to motivate them to see the point and purpose of their lives. I am aware that many adult men often find it difficult--indeed, have traditionally found it so--to accept the responsibility of parenthood. That is why, when the note comes from the head teacher requiring the parents to visit the school, it is more often than not the mother who attends. That has been a traditional part of our culture. We must not overplay how important fathers have been in that process. Nevertheless, the situation is much more difficult today.

It is relatively easy in this House to identify the problem, but I suggest that it is very much harder to motivate those young men about whom we are speaking to engage in certain activities. If noble Lords do not believe me, they have only to look at the average response to those activities in our young society that address life, growing up and relationships, be they activities in schools, colleges or in the youth organisations. It is very difficult to engage in clubbable activities that did so much in an earlier generation to achieve what we are looking for today. I suspect--here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne--that local authorities have allowed their resourcing to run down. They have got away with it because they have had one model and that model is no longer seen as being applicable to many of the people about whom we are speaking.

We must hope that the new Learning and Skills Council will not only be concerned with employment--important though that is in this context--but that it will also address these wider issues about life and living. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. This Motion challenges not only government and statutory bodies; it also challenges voluntary agencies, Churches, faith communities and charities. They must all try to address this need in an imaginative way with appropriate human and financial resources, which are not always easily available.

I am optimistic up to a point about the attempt that is being made. As I prepared for this debate, I was made aware of projects like the one recently set up by the Children's Society in Brighton. I have also been made aware of the YMCA's "Dads and Lads" programme, and of some recent work undertaken by the Diocese of Truro in Cornwall. I believe that we need to monitor the results of this work and, above all, to share good practice where it is available. That may be one of the positive outcomes of this debate in your Lordships' House tonight.

However, perhaps the first task is to get behind the specific future roles of fathers and citizenship and to begin working with the young people simply as regards what it means to be a young man who will become a man. We must work through the issues and tackle apathy--the sense of worthlessness--where it exists, and which is so destructive to a vibrant, civilised society. But I believe that it depends on the age of the boys or the young men whether one should best try to do that through, as it were, an "own gender" approach, or whether it is better accomplished at times with young women being present who might motivate some young men to take an interest and participate in training programmes.

I must confess to having no clear answers about the subject that we are debating this evening. However, on behalf of the Churches, I should like to express the hope that we may be one group in the community that will help to address this issue. In Judaeo-Christian theology and tradition, it seems to me that both the notion of fatherhood and of human responsibility for the creation of a good society are extremely important.

Photo of Lord Quirk Lord Quirk Crossbench 6:48, 24 January 2001

My Lords, along with the other noble Lords who have spoken, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for the opportunity that this debate gives us to address an ever-deepening problem. I am grateful, too, for the position paper that the noble Lord wrote during the run-up to Christmas.

There are apparently inherent disadvantages in being a human male. You are--to a statistically significant degree--more likely than females to suffer slings and arrows of varying severity from red-green colour blindness, like me, to autism, even to suicide. And you are 25 times more likely to get a prison sentence before you are 30.

This last fate is especially relevant to the condition specified in the terms of this debate of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne:

"boys growing up without the care of a father".

For it turns out that boys--a further limiting characteristic of the male--seem much more dependent than are girls on a happy, two-parent environment. Without it, they are far more likely than girls to get involved in street gangs, in truancy, in exclusion from school and in other dark alleys that lead to Portland, Feltham, or even Pentonville.

There is a depressingly voluminous literature on the relation between home background and delinquency, but if I might draw attention to just one recent and conveniently brief item, it would be the Home Office Research Study, number 209, the Youth Lifestyles Survey, published just a few months ago. For example, the table 3.1 measures the relation between various parameters of parental care and its relative absence on the one hand, and on the other the occurrence of serious offences at various ages. Without parental care, boys of 17 and below are twice as likely to get into trouble. Girls in this age band offend significantly less but the dependence on parental care is just as strong. Over 17, however, the position is strikingly different. Not only does female offending drop down far more sharply than male offending, but the dependence of the young women on parental care almost entirely disappears, whereas for the young men this dependency remains as strong as ever. In other words, the legacy of parental neglect continues to blight male lives throughout their twenties and beyond.

This difference between the sexes is brought out sharply in a histogram on page 33 of the Home Office survey. It shows that where a boy is brought up by a lone parent he is 40 per cent more likely to become a serious offender than a boy who is brought up with his two natural parents. Girls, however, have exactly the same rather low offender rate irrespective of this particular difference in family structure. As a parenthesis I might add that in stepfamilies the male offending rate is about the same as in one-parent families whereas for girls the offending rate in stepfamilies doubles from either of the other family structures.

Let me cite one other set of data from this Home Office survey. Table 3.2 relates offending to school performance and shows that if you detest school, or if you do worse at school than your peers, or if you leave school without qualifications, you are--in each case--two or three times more liable to become an offender, whether you are a boy or a girl. So the school experience is vitally important for girls and boys alike. But if you are a boy, the table goes on to show, you are a further two or three times more liable to commit offences--and these are especially violent offences.

In the musical version of Shaw's Pygmalion, the question arises,"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" There are times when the converse question must surely have occurred to teachers, to social workers, to police and perhaps even to parents. Indeed, we are told that in the United States there is a movement to promote the idea of bringing up boys as though they were girls, with a view to making them gentler and less laddish.

But rather than attempts at social engineering to achieve psychological emasculation, we should be seeking ways to channel all that is valuable in a boy's masculinity into positive directions that will help him to take up his complementary and constructive role in a two sex society. And if this channelling cannot be conducted in a two parent home, the main responsibility falls on the educational services, on a civilising curriculum, on the wisdom of teachers and on the preparation of all children for a productive life. So, of course, if, through truancy or school exclusion, a youngster ends up in Feltham or some other Young Offender Institution, we must be far more insistent than we have so far been to ensure that the opportunity is seized to supply, belatedly and within the institutions, some of the civilising and career envisaging and self-respect enhancing influence that education can exercise.

This is not the occasion to reiterate my complaints about the low quality and minute quantity of educational provision in YOIs and prisons--the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already referred to this issue--nor to repeat criticisms by Sir David Ramsbotham in numerous reports or by a former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, or by the present Attorney-General himself, for example, on 15th December 1998 in this House, at col. 1229 of the Official Report. But the offenders and prisoners concerned are in disproportionately large measure a product of the conditions that are the subject of this debate.

Photo of The Earl of Longford The Earl of Longford Labour 6:56, 24 January 2001

My Lords, it is always instructive to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. On this occasion he has placed before us a number of crucial statistics on juvenile delinquency. I say in all humility that they fit in with my experience of such matters.

My main purpose is to give total support to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I am afraid that I shall not add any practical suggestions to the many that have been put forward with so much wisdom today. However, I want to strengthen the case for the kind of approach of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I speak as an old-fashioned father. New-fashioned fathers, I gather, spend a lot of time changing nappies. I do not know how many noble Lords spend their time changing nappies. I would not know a nappy if I saw one--I do not know how many other noble Lords would. As I say, I am an old-fashioned father. I can only plead that I did at least spend 15 years visiting four sons at Ampleforth. If any noble Lords know where Ampleforth is, they will know that it is not next door to London.

I plead the case for fatherhood in general. I do not think that it is easy to establish a direct connection between the way that any father treats his son and the way the son turns out. I have recently lost my godson, Auberon Waugh, of whom I was very fond. A great deal of attention was paid to him in the press. He was described by a fellow journalist of distinction as the most brilliant journalist of his time. Auberon Waugh, according to what we read, was badly treated by his father who was my old, close friend whom I knew much better than I ever knew Bron. It seems that, in spite of the treatment he received from his father, he loved him. He spent his time writing about him and praising him. He waged a positive vendetta against anyone who seemed to be his father's enemy. So one cannot be sure how things will turn out.

Nevertheless, if I had to think of good men of my generation--of course, there are plenty that I did not know and plenty that I did know but cannot mention--I think of three: Aidan Crawley, best known as a cricketer but famous for many other reasons, John Redcliffe-Maud and Jack Donaldson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. All three of us are the children of clergymen, as distinguished in their way as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Of those, one was the son of a bishop. Talking of bishops, I think of the broadcaster, Jon Snow. I do not know what his religious views are at the moment. I have known him for many years; he is my youngest friend. He is the son of a bishop. Every time I listen to him interrogating his eminent victims I think that his father would have been proud of him. That kind of religious influence is a good influence.

On the other hand, we have the other extreme. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, and others have said how terrible it is for young people not to have had such treatment. If one has visited prisons for as long as I have, one finds that in a high proportion of cases home life has been very unsatisfactory. I think in particular of two men. Both have committed terrible crimes. One is now in a secure hospital. I think of Ian Brady and Dennis Nilsen. I call them my friends; I am not sure what they would say about me. I have known them both for a long time. I have known Ian Brady for 30 years. They were both illegitimate. What effect did that have on them? No one can deny that it has a damaging effect.

When I appear before St Peter, he may well say, like Abraham said to Dives, "You've had a good time in your lifetime and he has had a terrible time", so perhaps there will be a levelling up. I do not make any forecasts.

I had a wonderful father. He was killed leading his brigade at Gallipoli when I was eight. He was a wonderful example. The brother of Sir Stafford Cripps told me afterwards that when my father was leading his brigade to certain death in Gallipoli--they were under a hail of Turkish bullets--he said to Cripps, "We should stop ducking, Fred. The men don't like it. We don't do any good". My father was killed soon afterwards. His was a wonderful example. The role model of a father which comes to an end when you are eight is somewhat different from the role model of a father who looks after you throughout childhood and adolescence.

I come back to a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. He quoted my dear wife's niece, Harriet Harman: that what we need is a father, not the money. When I was at Eton a missionary used to come each year to give a sermon, appealing for money. He would say, "It's not your money I want, though God knows I need it; it is you, my dear fellows, you". That is the message from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, today.

Photo of The Earl of Rosslyn The Earl of Rosslyn Crossbench 7:03, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Northbourne for introducing this debate today.

I should like to say something about the issue from a criminal justice perspective and in so doing should declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police where I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training. Most of my career, however, has been in operational roles--in Lambeth, Southwark, Peckham and Rotherhithe. I served for five years as the superintendent for Slough. Those communities manifested many of the symptoms of disadvantage to which my noble friend refers, with young boys having to negotiate a set of risks which were largely unknown to their parents, irrespective of social background or gender.

The average age at which offending begins for boys is 13½ and while there is little difference in the proportion of girls and boys offending at the age of 12 or 13, after that the difference becomes marked. The peak age of offending for girls is 14 while the proportion of male offenders starts to decline only after the age of 21. These findings from the 1998 Youth Lifestyles survey, to which my noble friend Lord Quirk referred, support those of a previous study in 1992 and show that girls "grow out of crime" at an earlier age than boys.

For boys aged 12 to 17 the factors most strongly associated with serious or persistent offending were the use of drugs, disaffection from school, persistent truancy or exclusion and weak family attachments. Many risk factors coincide or are interrelated. These findings validate earlier work for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which examined the background, circumstances and attitudes of offenders. That study identified social and economic deprivation as important predictors of anti-social behaviour. It showed that the risks of becoming criminally involved were higher for boys raised in disorganised inner city areas, characterised by physical deterioration and overcrowded households. Comparatively small proportions of the population--about 5 per cent of males--were found to be chronic offenders who accounted for about half of all known offending. Young boys who committed crime from an early age were especially likely to become persistent offenders with long criminal careers.

A lot is now known about what works in reducing such risk factors, including the importance of young boys having trusting relationships with adult role models. But it is, I believe, important to recognise individuality, to listen to young people, and not to perceive them as some homogeneous and problematic entity.

A study of young people moving into adulthood in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in north-east England illustrates the point. It discovered that, despite sharing very similar backgrounds and coming from the same place, young people's experiences during youth and early adulthood differed widely. The only exception in fact was in their criminal careers where typically these young boys--they were predominantly boys--had participated with their peers in street drinking, drug use and petty crime from an early age and had later progressed to more serious crime and drug use. The study found a strong relationship between boys becoming involved in regular truancy, exclusion from school and the likelihood that they would become involved in delinquency and crime.

I know from my own experience how easy it is for a relatively small group of young men to create an estate culture in which crime and anti-social behaviour become tolerated as inevitable and low expectations become universal. Very soon a set of deviant norms develop and strong pressure is exerted on other boys to conform to them.

Reinforcing the support systems which exist in families and communities is, therefore, important and I understand that the new Connections programme, to which my noble friend Lord Northbourne, referred will seek out those most at risk of disadvantage. Reaching such young people, winning their confidence and developing long-term relationships with them will demand patience and skill, and we have reason to be grateful to all those involved in such work. That includes police officers who throughout the country are involved in strategies to support boys effectively through adolescence, identifying risks and developing ways of reducing these. This often means shifting resources into prevention and helping children and parents to deal with problems before they become acute.

In Thames Valley, for example, we work closely with schools and families using the principles of restorative justice, to which my noble friend Lord Listowel also referred, to address bullying, which was placing those involved at risk of exclusion. Such work is relevant to our debate today since 83 per cent of excluded pupils are boys and research has shown that those same boys generally experience considerable associated disadvantage with high levels of family stress, unemployment and low income.

Police officers are also supporting the work of young offending teams, working with others to help young people address offending behaviour. The recent evaluation from the national pilot schemes has demonstrated the benefits of such partnership approaches. Officers are also supporting the work of youth inclusion programmes on some of the most highly deprived estates in England and Wales, giving young people between 13 and 16, who may be at risk of offending, access to education, training, mentoring and addiction support.

They are also partners in the "on track" initiative being piloted in areas with high levels of crime or disadvantage. Here preventive schemes are being developed for children aged between four and 12 and their families. The scheme aims to identify children at risk of offending and to provide them and their families with consistent support throughout the period of the child's development. The initiative places a clear strategic focus on crime prevention.

Officers also support the summer holiday schemes targeted at young people at risk of becoming involved in crime, which have had some impact on reducing youth crime levels. The service also seeks to promote among young people greater awareness of their social and moral responsibilities. For example, the Metropolitan Police volunteer cadet scheme promotes good citizenship by involving young people in community crime prevention initiatives and helping special constables at community events. The cadets have the chance to develop their personal qualities and skills. Last year they assisted the force with over 5,500 hours of duty. Such schemes have the potential to complement other national initiatives that promote citizenship in schools and to stimulate the interest of young people who may be considering a career in the police service.

Giving support to boys and young men in a situation of disadvantage is a desirable objective, as it will allow them to realise their potential and achieve all that they can in their lives. More than that, it may prevent offending now and in the future. There is substantial research to show that if family members engage in crime, children are likely to copy their behaviour. There is still much to be done. I am confident that the police service will continue to play its part in this important work.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Liberal Democrat 7:11, 24 January 2001

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, whose front-line experience is most relevant. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us a chance to focus again on the current plight of boys in our society, which I believe and hope is only a temporary situation. The noble Lord has been much complimented for his tenacious pursuit of the issue. May he keep going at it.

Today we have focused on boys without fathers--a particular sub-group of the young male population. I shall concentrate on four aspects of the debate so far. Several noble Lords referred to the poor use that is made of time spent in prison. As a former prison social worker, I entirely agree. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, told us about the extra difficulties that young black boys have when growing up. I normally spend my time wondering how young Scots are getting on. I realise that young Scots are doing very well in a comparatively easy task.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the "be like my dad" syndrome. That is a two-edged sword. The outcome can be admirable or disastrous. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, pointed out that boys are more dependent for success in life on a happy family background. That point had eluded me in the past.

There is no doubt that today's boys are growing up in a changing culture where the position of girls has rightly improved. That has led to the displacement of boys into a bit of a vacuum. That social and cultural readjustment is interesting to social scientists and perplexing for those trying to grow up at the moment.

So far, I have referred to all boys. The debate relates to boys without fathers. As a sub-culture, children without fathers must be presumed to have always been at a disadvantage. We should grasp the presumption that, in most cases, regular contact with both parents is beneficial. There is some pussyfooting around on the issue at the moment. I doubt that there is a substantive case for promoting single parenthood as a first choice. We should reinforce the merit of boys and girls having regular contact with both their parents if that is practical.

But then I need to remind myself that I have been a step-parent for the past 26 years. Whereas I start by arguing that a boy needs to grow up with both his parents to understand his genetic make-up--an admittedly esoteric subject for any child--and to be able to respond to the role model offered by those two parents, I have to accept that there may be a fundamental complexity in the step-child/step-parent relationship. In a nutshell, it is a struggle between nature and nurture. Put another way, the child is being offered a role model by someone whose nature they do not share. That is the special task of the step-parent. I support the availability of any long-term, ongoing relationship between a child and an adult in the parental role.

A word about the role of the extended family is necessary. Literature and experience give us the impression that the extended family used to play a significant part in the upbringing of children. I suspect that the situation was not always rosy, but smaller families and greater mobility may well have taken their toll. Extended families are fewer in number and close relatives do not always live just round the corner.

The plain fact is that some men are cut out for fatherhood and others are not. It is perverse that some separated fathers have a better relationship with their children on alternate Saturdays than they would have had if they had remained at home.

Boys need to be given positive experiences that build on their propensity to single-mindedness. Some of those opportunities should be physical, to run off excess energy, and others should be of a social, cultural, environmental or recreational nature. Experience in social work with offenders reminds me that many minor offences have occurred when the young person has gone out of the house with no particular aim. The probation supervisor's classic advice is to stay in the house unless you are going somewhere definite.

It is not for society to prescribe how children should be brought up, but it is reasonable to identify the pitfalls and the possible remedies. That means that the mother of a boy disconnected from his father and any other long-term father figure needs to work hard to fulfil both female and male roles. That means encouraging men in the extended family to play a part and finding activity groups for the boys that include men in their leadership.

At this point we run into more of society's current problems, which have already been referred to: the non-availability, even in a new form, of what was once known generally as the youth service; and the new litigious nature of society, which brings the dreaded issue of liability. The non-availability of youth work resources needs to be reversed. It will cost money, but I argue the case on the grounds of collective responsibility. Where does it get us if boys grow up believing that success is for others? Such desperation is rarely motivating. It usually leads to a feeling of exclusion and disaffection.

The Government and others--definitely others--must re-engage with youth work and so demonstrate social responsibility and community involvement.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Conservative 7:19, 24 January 2001

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating the debate and bringing to it all the experience for which he has such a reputation in your Lordships' House. He has rightly drawn attention to the problems that we have inherited, including the decline in heavy engineering, mining and the Armed Forces, the decline of Victorian values and the increased career prospects for women. That inheritance is nobody's fault, but we must emphatically not be complacent. The debate has shown that there is no danger of that.

We are discussing the role of fathers, or, as in so many cases, the absence of fathers. In this day and age, it is possible to say that it has ever been thus. The role of the father is more difficult to define, if only because, by contrast, the role of the mother in physiological terms is so clear. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, drew attention to J M Barrie's remark that the Almighty in appearance bore a remarkable resemblance to the child's mother.

The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, gave some interesting figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Another statistic possibly puts this problem into perspective: despite all that is said on the subject, seven out of 10 families consist of dependent children living with their birth parents, and 70 per cent of non-resident fathers have contact with their children. However, in each case there is a significant minority with which, of course, this debate is concerned.

British men work the longest hours in Europe. That, in itself, must be a serious handicap to effective fatherhood. As many noble Lords have said, despite the hands-on reality of fathering for many men, the cultural stereotype of fathers as breadwinners and providers continues to exert a strong influence over men's, women's and children's attitudes to parenthood. Lest it be thought that bad fatherhood is peculiar to the lower end of the social spectrum, it may come as some surprise that a survey by the National Child Development Study showed that among parents with graduate qualifications only 35 per cent said that they took an equal share of childcare, while among men with few or no qualifications, the figure was 58 per cent.

But whatever section of society the boys come from--this has been referred to by several noble Lords--a feeling of inadequacy and loss of self-esteem follows if the fathers, for whatever reason, are not in a position to fulfil that role. That, in turn, leads to their failure to play a proper part in the care of the children.

This debate has two agendas: how to make better fathers and how to help boys who have no fathers at all. Perhaps I may quote from a finding of the National Fatherhood Initiative--an American organisation--which expresses the matter so well:

"We have simply changed our minds about the importance of fathers to the well-being of children and families. We have so truncated the role of fathers to where we now say a good father is someone who provides money ... It's far more than just economic. In fact, the non-economic contributions are more important, things like being a good nurturer, a good disciplinarian, a teacher, a moral instructor. These are things we used to look to fathers to contribute to the well-being of their children".

It is all too easy to see the temptation for fatherless boys to seek their male outlet by becoming part of a gang, with all the potentially adverse consequences of drifting into crime to which that can lead. It would be impertinent for me to try to add to what the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, spoke about from his own personal experience.

What are the possibilities of, as it were, deflecting that and offering an acceptable father substitute? The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned the need for more male teachers. He, together with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Earl, referred to the need for good leaders in the youth service to help with youth clubs, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, the scout movement and the many other organisations mentioned.

Here, I must mention the ball and chain with which we in this country are shackling ourselves--that is, the politically correct culture. How many good young leaders are inhibited or, indeed, discouraged altogether from entering voluntary youth service, where quite innocent physical contact or perhaps simply a well-meant remark can lead to litigation being brought for alleged sexual abuse? That point was referred to obliquely by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. That problem must be faced, but it must not deter either government or the voluntary sector from endeavouring to fill in a constructive way the void left by the totally absent father.

In the United States the "Big Brother, Big Sister" initiative, where the aim is to introduce an older brother or sister as a role model, has had widespread success. Like many successful American initiatives of that kind, the idiom may not be entirely appropriate to the United Kingdom but the concept will well repay study.

The recent proposal put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to the increased role of the voluntary sector will, I hope, embrace initiatives in connection with youth work. In particular, I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether mentoring embraces such work. That, surely, presents the great opportunity to reach out in particular to the fatherless boys who are so in need of that old-fashioned word "leadership", or guidance, role model or whatever one chooses to call it.

I am quite sure that the problem of father/son relationships is not new to this generation. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to the decline of Victorian values. But how many Victorian sons were in terror of their father and probably passed on that terror to their own sons? It may have made for a stable marriage but some people would have been very unhappy.

At present, matters are certainly different. We live in an age in which greater resources are available and communication and the ability to discuss these issues is so much more developed. This debate has provided a good forum to discuss the subject. We must be very grateful to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Lords in Waiting (Whips) 7:26, 24 January 2001

My Lords, together with other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss these important issues. I express particular gratitude for the way in which he introduced the debate and identified with great accuracy the nature of the problem. I believed that he had covered the issues so well that there would be little for others to add in the development of the debate. Of course, I was immediately proved wrong on that score, and I shall read with particular interest in Hansard the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. He added depth to the nature of the problems which we all face and which, I must confess, I considered were in any case profound enough.

We all know that over the past few decades family structures have seen considerable changes: the divorce rate has risen substantially; fewer people are choosing to marry; and those who marry do so in later life. An increasing number of children are born to parents who are unmarried and more children than ever before are growing up in step-families and single-parent families. Of course, we need to recognise that those changes are the result of choices that people have made about the way that they want to live. It would be inappropriate for any government to try to tell people how they should live or how they should structure their families. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, indicated, even if we tried we would be singularly unsuccessful and doomed to fail.

Therefore, the role of a responsible government is to provide all families with advice and support and to help them to give their children the best possible start in life. I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Howells, who provided some breadth as to the nature of our society and the reasons why we need to develop an understanding of the needs of our fellow citizens in all their diversity.

Of course, the Government fully recognise the important role that most fathers play in raising their children. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for identifying the percentage of our fellow citizens who fulfil their role in terms of parenthood. The debate has illustrated clearly how important it is that we get right this area of work. The Government are working hard to support fathers in carrying out their responsibilities. This debate assists in identifying fruitful paths which we can follow in that respect.

The Government recognise that the role of fathers needs to be given greater prominence. In the past, the importance of the father's role in shaping the lives of children has been underestimated. We know--it has been clearly demonstrated by the contributions to this debate--that strong links exist between the role of fathers in the family and the life outcomes of boys and young men.

A number of obstacles prevents many fathers from playing a full role in the lives of their children. Those obstacles have been identified in this debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, reminded us that British men--and women too--work some of the longest hours in Europe. One in five men works more than 50 hours per week, and most of the men who are employed to that extent are fathers with dependent children. Many fathers feel that they should be able to provide and care for their family without having to seek help. They feel that a man's role is to be strong and they regard it as a failure to have to ask for help.

Many services have therefore been targeted at women or, by being gender neutral, have attracted only women. We must ensure that services aimed at parents do not implicitly or actively exclude fathers or affect the role that men need to play and their contribution. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for discussing the need for men to get more involved in such services. We also need to recognise the cultural change that is required in relation to the way in which parenthood is fulfilled by men. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for his contribution and for raising that point. We have the extensive job of educating men in their role as fathers in contemporary society.

What are the Government doing? We want to change the culture involving parenting support. We want parents, especially fathers, who can find this particularly difficult, to regard asking for help and support as a positive step in the role that they play caring for their children. That step is taken by a responsible parent for the good of the family, and it is not regarded as a sign of weakness or an admission of failure. One or two noble Lords discussed that. We have all felt a sense of failure, if not on occasion desperation, at some stage in our lives as parents. Even the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn discussed that moment of doubt that we have all felt as parents.

The Government alone cannot change that culture, but we are making a start through key initiatives such as Sure Start, the Children's Fund and the family support grants. Those initiatives are already making a difference to the quality and availability of support for all parents, including fathers. Sure Start is targeted particularly at fathers in disadvantaged sections of our community.

It is also important to understand that if we want to help young fathers to take an active interest in and responsibility for their children, we must first help them to raise their self-esteem. The significance of government initiatives such as the New Deal is clear in that context. One of the best ways for the unemployed to do that is to obtain work and to acquire a significant bread-winning role in the family.

Since 1997, the Government's New Deal has been a considerable success. More than 81,000 employers have signed employer agreements. Between 1997 and the spring of 2000, the number of children living in families claiming out-of-work benefits fell by 300,000. By the end of September last year, the Government had met their manifesto pledge to move 250,000 young people off benefit and into work through the New Deal for young people.

My right honourable friend in another place announced only today another initiative involving status and opportunity which is particularly relevant to young males. He emphasised the need to tackle drop-out rates from school. That problem was also identified by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, and he related it to the problem of criminal activity. The truanting of young people may occur because they are not sufficiently engaged at school; that may be why they fall into bad ways. My right honourable friend in another place today emphasised the need to broaden the curriculum and to provide opportunities through vocational educational schemes. That will help those students who previously felt that the provision of education for the under-16s was too limited and that they were failing. They will see a closer relationship between the studies they engage in and the opportunity to earn their living directly.

The Government are determined that young people who want a career that is based on vocational and technical skills should be able to choose predominantly vocational programmes of study from the age of 14, and that that will include progression to an apprenticeship at the age of 16. That will, I am sure, begin to tackle a matter to which the Government have paid a great deal of attention; namely, the need to reduce the number of young people who are excluded from school or who exclude themselves through truancy.

The development of the concept of citizenship in the curriculum is an important dimension. That change was referred to by several noble Lords, two of whom, the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Phillips, have played a distinguished role in that context. We cannot over-emphasise the contribution that such a change will make, although it will be a marginal part of the curriculum. Nevertheless, it will provide a framework in which young people should be able to understand in more detail their role, their rights and their responsibilities in the development of our society. I hope that that work, which is being carried out with good intentions in schools, will extend into further education for those over 16.

The Government are concerned about providing financial support for families. The issue of poverty has underwritten many of the problems that have been identified in this debate. The tax and benefits system needs to support all children and to recognise the extra costs and responsibilities that parents face and the importance of our children to our future. When all the measures that will be introduced during this Parliament have come into effect, the tax burden on a family with a single earner on average earnings with two children will be the lowest since 1972.

The Government are also committed to working with employers to enable fathers to find a better balance between their work and their family life. That relates to the long hours that many fathers work. The Government are providing £2.5 million over two years for the new work-life balance challenge fund, which will provide free advice to employers to develop work-life balance policies. We are getting a good response to that initiative.

The Government have also established the Family Support Grant to develop and promote family support. About £7 million will be given over three years to organisations that provide support for families. Each year, a portion of the grant is awarded to themed applications. That relates to the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who said that it was important to have effective targeting in the distribution of such resources. I assure him that that is the Government's intention. The theme for the 1999-2000 period was boys, young men and fathers, which is directly relevant to this debate. During that period we awarded 14 voluntary organisations with funding totalling £432,000 to develop and trial a variety of approaches to working with fathers. The noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Northbourne, have close associations with several of those organisations.

Fathers Direct is working to change the culture surrounding fatherhood, emphasising fathers' caring, involved role as a parent. The Government are funding that scheme, which will provide information to fathers, highlight fathers' issues in public life and bring together organisations in that field to exchange experiences and to influence policy developments.

Parentline Plus is a freephone telephone helpline offering support and information to anyone in a parenting role. It receives government funding of £1 million over three years. It is developing a communication campaign to target specific groups of parents, including fathers and parents on low incomes. Parentline Plus is working with Fathers Direct to break down the barriers that fathers feel prevent them using the helpline and is tackling that cultural problem to which so many noble Lords have referred, which was also an important part of the contribution by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.

The National Family and Parenting Institute is an independent charity which receives guaranteed strategic government funding of £2 million over three years. It provides advice to government and others on issues relating to family policy, parenting and adult relationships and the needs of children. It analyses and disseminates research findings, raises public awareness of the importance of parenting and the needs of children and promotes parenting issues in the media.

Of course, several noble Lords raised the very important issue of mentoring. My noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Earls, Lord Listowel and Lord Rosslyn, all referred to the question of mentoring and role models. So often in the media role models seem to be portrayed by significant figures whose fame is often transient and they have strikingly little relevance to the real needs of the people who are meant to identify them as role models. Only a certain number of people from even the most talented in society can aspire to be strikers for Manchester United.

We need to be more concerned, of course, about what has been reflected in this debate; namely, role models relating much more directly to the needs of young people in terms of fatherhood. We are establishing pilot schemes at the present time. There is one in Kensington and Chelsea, another in Birmingham and another in Salford. They will test different models of co-ordinating, recruiting and supporting mentors which are rather more directly related to the needs of young people. That will help to establish minimum quality standards and spread good practice in mentoring. That is a process which many will welcome in this House.

I wish to emphasise also that local authority support for youth services is a very important dimension. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was perhaps rather disparaging about certain aspects of that work. I assure him that we recognise, of course, that the Youth Service varies across the country. There is a need for bringing up standards in some authorities. It is because of that that the Government and the Secretary of State have asked Ofsted to inspect for the first time local authority youth services and national voluntary youth organisations so that we can improve standards in that respect.

In recognition of the valuable role played by the national voluntary youth organisations, we have provided them with £12 million of funding. Many local youth organisations also receive funding from their local authority.

I turn to a particular dimension with regard to the development of services for young people. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, was perhaps more positive than others about the role of the Connexions Service. I should like to associate myself with his positive and optimistic remarks. The new Connexions Service will provide advice, guidance and support to all 13 to 19 year-olds who need help. The Connexions Service intends to provide a personal adviser for every 13 to 19 year-old in order to broker access for specialist support where that is needed.

The amount to be spent on the Connexions Service one year from now will be double the amount spent on the present Career Service. So that is an earnest of the Government's very real intention to tackle the issue of how people see the relevance between the development of their educational work at quite a young age and the opportunities which they will seek as they move into more mature adulthood.

Photo of The Earl of Longford The Earl of Longford Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend emphasise the role of the churches in trying to raise the moral standards of the country?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, of course I am happy to associate the Government with that suggestion in so far as it is quite clear that we shall need every possible contribution from those who, in a voluntary and professional capacity, have the ability to raise the standards of morality in the country as a whole. I take it that my noble friend will agree with me that where there is need, there is the necessity for a social, community or national response to that need. But that cannot be provided only by government and, in fact, in my opening remarks I referred to the limitations of government in that regard. It requires the wider community as a whole to respond to the needs which we have identified.

It is clear that there is a great deal of work to do in this area and the debate has identified how much we need to advance. Strengthening the roles and responsibilities of fathers cannot be achieved by the Government alone and nor can it be achieved overnight. However, it is clear that the Government have made a significant start in addressing those issues and will continue to ensure that supporting fathers and, indeed, all families remains a key priority of Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 7:47, 24 January 2001

My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate--so much experience, so much knowledge, so much wisdom. I was particularly pleased to hear what the Minister said about the funding of the Connexions Service because, for some time, that was in the air.

We are all agreed that the cultural legacy of the father as provider is a thing of the past and will have to be a thing of the past for many families. The difficulty is that we have not really identified what role replaces it. My noble friend Lord Laming referred to the changing of nappies. In that particular context, he gave me one encouraging thought; namely, that while technological advance may now make it much more difficult for men to be the provider for the family, it makes it a lot easier to change nappies!

This is a difficult time for young people to grow up in. Your Lordships have all made extremely important and useful contributions to the debate. I hope that many people will read it. I thank most warmly all noble Lords who took part in the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.