Children

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:32 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench 3:32 pm, 29th March 2007

My Lords, I agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and congratulate him on bringing these issues before the House. I have not yet received a copy of Every Parent Matters but hope to in the near future. I suppose that I could go down the road and get one.

This afternoon we have rightly emphasised the welfare of children, but, as your Lordships know, children are people as well as children. As people, they have rights. One of their rights is enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the right to respect for family and private life. Children, however, have many limitations on their rights, which are inevitably circumscribed. In particular, they are not in charge of their own lives. There is an inevitable reliance on parents, teachers and other adults who are in charge of them.

Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 identifies parental responsibilities as including parental rights and responsibilities; but the emphasis is on responsibility. As adults, we all speak, do we not, of "rights"? "Rights" predominates nowadays in the thinking across the country. Much less is said of "duty" or "duties". Indeed, duty is an uncomfortable word. But parenting, as we all know, involves responsibilities and duties. It is a major undertaking to have a child. As was said earlier, it requires a commitment—and a commitment for life. Noble Lords who have adult children, as I have, may recognise the scenario when I say that I often hear the words, "Mum, can you help me now?", in respect of one or other of my grandchildren.

We have to get the message across the entire country about the long-term adverse effect on children of bad or inadequate parenting. It will also affect people's ability to parent the generation after the current young one, so, as my noble friend Lord Listowel said earlier, we need to recognise that bad parenting will continue if we do not get at the generation who are not yet parents.

I particularly want to emphasise the importance of fathers—an issue that is gaining recognition. I should like to see the Government encourage even further flexible working to enable fathers to join their children at all sorts of important events, such as school open days and sports days—if the school has a sports day—and anything else that the child considers to be important. That requires employers to recognise that parents and other carers of children have duties other than attending work five days a week from, as is particularly the case among middle-class parents, early in the morning to late in the evening. The City approach that says, "The job is the only thing that matters", is in contradistinction to the importance of people showing their children that they care for them as well—and that means not playing golf every Saturday afternoon.

However, in fairness, we must recognise that fathers are now increasingly sharing in the day-to-day, practical care of very young children. We have gone far beyond the days of Dr Spock. Many noble Lords may not remember Dr Spock's advice, which was to hold hard the corner of the diaper when you flush it down the lavatory. Nowadays, parents know all about looking after their young children, and fathers are as good at that as mothers. We just want that to be true of fathers across the board and not just of the responsible ones.

The Government can be congratulated on many of their initiatives. When I read Every Parent Matters, I shall no doubt see that even more are being offered. But I believe that they can do more to support marriage, stable relationships and single parents who need help. It seems to me that a relationship or partnership between government and local and voluntary organisations should also be encouraged.

Much is done already, particularly in the way of start-up help—for example, through youth groups and child contact centres, in particular—but, where parents are separated, it is very important that fathers are given the opportunity to see the child and maintain the relationship in a child contact centre. With all too many such centres, money is given by government to start them but not to keep them running, and child contact centres and some youth group initiatives die on the vine because there is no water to keep them alive.

I end by saying that children are our future. There is not much point for any of us if we do not support them now.