Families, Community Cohesion and Social Action

– in the House of Lords at 11:36 am on 28 February 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 11:36, 28 February 2008

rose to call attention to the case for strengthening families, community cohesion and social action; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, in my topic for debate today it is not by accident that family comes first. I believe it is that important. The family has always been the backbone of society and remains so. The word "family" has a much wider meaning now than in the past, and society has adapted to accept this. I will not define "family" as each person will put their own interpretation on the word. Each of us knows what we understand the family to be. Multiple studies show that children brought up in a loving family, even if they are financially hard-pressed, grow up to be better adjusted adults. My wish would be that every child could mature in these favourable conditions.

Sadly, this is so. Children suffer neglect, physical and mental, bullying at home, in school or at play, sexual abuse and violence even in their own homes. As a community, we must be on the lookout for signs of these problems and be willing to support and help those families to overcome them. As a society, we must always help those who due to disability are unable to support themselves, and we have a responsibility to their carers, often family members, who willingly undertake a great burden that would otherwise fall on the state.

Major problems arise from addiction, not only to drugs, which have become all too commonly used, but also to gambling and alcohol. Alcohol is rapidly becoming the prime problem for the young. I think that the Government have recognised this and hope to stem the surge in teenage drinking. Police reports confirm that 24-hour drinking has added greatly to the demands made on their time. Debt, both personal and family, has become a major issue. Historically, people bought only what they could afford. The change came with, "take the waiting out of wanting" credit card promotions. Buying or having things you cannot afford is a real addiction for some people, while for others it is simply a lack of understanding that debts incurred have to be met some time. I am old enough to look back to a time when children never drank alcohol and were almost totally ignorant about sex. With increased awareness, young people are sexually active long before the legal age, and I have doubts about the Government allowing pharmacists to supply contraceptives and the morning-after pill to underage persons. Only time will tell if that reduces the number of teenage pregnancies, for which the UK has an unenviably poor record.

The need for two parents to be in full-time work to afford a modest standard of living amid the rising tax burden can make it difficult to cope with a family. It is wrong that two-parent households need far greater earnings—£240 per week—than a lone parent at £76 per week to move past the poverty line, as shown by Frank Field's study. Couples should not be penalised for providing two parents for their children, nor should it pay them to split up and thus obtain greater benefits. That is a perverse incentive. Perverse, too, is the benefit trap where taking a job can lose a family money. It must always pay to work. The cost of family breakdown is now more than £20 billion a year.

Poverty and the gap between rich and poor have increased in the last decade. Quality of life is a luxury for those who do not have to fight simply to survive. It is wrong that so many expenses are higher for the poor, such as energy supplies, where obligatory pre-paid meters add £175 a year to the fuel bill.

No one today talks of latch-key children, the major concern when I began dental practice in a non-affluent area of central London. Perhaps we now think "if only" children went home instead of wandering the streets, joining up with others into unsavoury gangs. No longer is the quick cigarette the health hazard; drugs are readily available. Peer pressure often causes youngsters to try these, and then the addictive power of the drugs has them "hooked".

The formation of gangs of teenagers and young people has created a special hazard for the young themselves and for those who come into contact with them. Individuals who would not dream of attacking anyone on their own, suddenly feel invincible when backed up by a group of others—their gang. In the news every week—sometimes almost daily—we hear of ordinary people being attacked, severely injured or even killed by groups of youths; and they say that gangs of girls can be worse than boys, an unfortunate case of sex equality.

The culture of knife carrying has a cachet of its own. In London and other cities, young people are being killed by their peers wielding readily available deadly blades. Police amnesties gather only a small percentage of the knives that young people now carry as routine.

We need to take back our communities from these young thugs who are found at all levels of society; this is not solely a problem for deprived areas. To hear that the Home Secretary is fearful of walking the streets at night is no surprise but is a sad indication of how things are. A more visible police presence is essential, and not only in patrolling cars. I was shocked to read that the Government are proposing to reduce the number of police at a time when we need them so badly. Why, when the zero tolerance of crime has worked so well in New York, are we proposing fewer police in the UK? David Cameron recently suggested that the community itself needs to be prepared to challenge inappropriate behaviour in other people's children. Fair enough—certainly we always used to—but in this we must be able to rely on the support of other members of the community and, ultimately, the back-up of our police.

Last Friday in affluent central London, a horde of 75 young people ran riot in a quiet street. Twenty had been invited to a private party; 80 gate-crashed. It seems they discover where a party is to be held and notify one another by mobile phone. Trouble began about 10.30 pm—cars were broken into, handbags stolen. Conditions were frightening and terrified local residents phoned the police. It was one hour before any police arrived and they explained that they had already dealt with 50 incidents that evening. There are simply not enough police to deal with these alcohol and drug-fuelled incidents, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. I thought that was very disturbing, happening very near where I live in London, but then I read in yesterday's paper that 250 people arrived uninvited at a 16th birthday "bash", was the word, in Australia, and it took police in 15 cars three hours to restore order.

It is so simple to list today's problems and so hard to resolve them. When anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, were introduced, it seemed that a solution had been found. ASBOs have sometimes worked well but I saw in The HouseMagazine of 13 February 2008, as quote of the week, the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that,

"if I was 14 years old, I would want an ASBO. It shows you're a leader and that you can challenge authority".

Too many of the young have reacted in just this way.

The topic of this debate is wide-ranging and I must return to the family. The present cooking furore about Delia Smith's advice on nutritious food and the organic food group has right on both sides. Organic food is more expensive and probably is a middle-class luxury. Readymade meals are often less nutritious and more costly. Good home cooking, especially with low salt content, on which we have had a Question today, must be a health benefit. The poorest families often use too many relatively expensive prepared meals that they can ill afford. Teaching cookery and home economics at school again will interest young people in how to prepare and cook healthy and tasty meals at a fraction of the cost.

Nothing unites a family more than sitting together at a dining table for a meal and a conversation, having that as a time without television, a time for communication as a family. Reports say that many homes do not even possess a table at which a family could sit together. The habit of grazing—that is, eating on the hoof—has become common.

The breakdown of family life is sometimes triggered by particular events and can have disastrous consequences. I listened, on the radio, to a sad history of a man whose father died and he lost his job almost at the same time. Desperately upset, almost disorientated, he took to viewing pornography on his home computer and it became an addiction. He went on to be convicted of an offence, his wife was completely alienated and he was not allowed alone with his grandchildren. Now he is undergoing rehabilitation and he spoke about the help he and his family had been getting from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, without which he thought he could not have survived. I mention that case particularly because Members of your Lordships' House will remember Lady Faithfull, the former head of Oxford Social Services, as a great source of wisdom in this House for many years.

Charities, the voluntary and community sector, non-governmental organisations—there are many terms to cover these groups—play an important part in supporting those in need or on the fringe of society. Last month, I met workers from Barnardo's and was most impressed by the changes in the organisation and the work it is now doing. I had not caught up with the fact that it has had no orphanages for 15 years. Its work now is with disaffected young people; to quote one of the workers, "to walk alongside people, not to tell them what to do but to give them a second chance". She told me that many were hard to like as they were so damaged that they were "not very nice people", and there was a need for a lot of listening. These young people were angry, with no self-confidence or self-esteem and totally lacking trust in others. Barriers had to be broken down and trust re-established. In Northern Ireland, where she came from, a certain number aged 16 to 20 were taken on as trainees in the organisation for two years and helped to develop their potential and their self-confidence.

Training, or education, is vitally important and each person needs to have some skill or occupation to find employment. Employment skills give people opportunities in life. Motivation is all-important and I know that the Australian experience has shown that you need to retain continuity of occupation from the end of formal education. They have found that if young people leave school and have nothing to do for more than three months, they are almost a lost cause. I believe that there is now a general recognition in the UK that training schemes for the young, rather than a continuing education that is only academic, will make a great difference in retaining interest and the motivation that is essential. Prevention is better than cure, and if voluntary and statutory organisations can step in at an early stage, that must be better.

I have previously spoken in the House about the young offender programme led by National Grid, a pioneering scheme for prisoners that has dramatically reduced the national average of young people reoffending from 74 per cent to less than 7 per cent through employment and the training they have had to give them employment when they finish their sentence. It helps meet industry's growing need for skilled and motivated labour. To date, the programme has engaged with more than 80 companies, and 1,000 offenders have successfully gone through the programme.

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion has a most impressive title and a difficult task. Its report shows the strain placed on local authorities where there is a high level of migration. The Office for National Statistics has acknowledged that no one really knows the truth about the numbers of migrants. I have in the past raised the point in your Lordships' House that there are so many "invisible" people in our community, unknown to either the Revenue or the local council, using local amenities and working in the black economy. In addition, new migrants are moving in legitimately. These large extra numbers of people make it difficult to provide the necessary services, and impossible for the Government correctly to assess the grant support that they should give to the local authority. For a successful community to be built, the infrastructure—everything from clean streets to youth sports facilities—needs to be in place. Without properly assessed and calculated national funding to local authorities, government are failing the individuals within those communities.

Iain Duncan Smith's excellent and comprehensive report, Breakthrough Britain, published last year, extends to almost 700 pages, so one can see that it is quite impossible for me to do more than skim the surface in my allotted minutes. I hope that others will cover other aspects in their contribution to the debate.

The Prime Minister was right in asking the newly formed Council on Social Action to use a one-to-one approach in helping people to help one another. When I chaired an NGO helping the poorest children in the world, we had this approach and it worked well. If one suggests a major onslaught, people turn away: it is too much to consider. If one asks them to help one other person, they will probably do it and the ripple effect will be great.

We, too, must be willing to work with neighbours and other members of our local community to change the climate of our areas, to remove the climate of fear where people are afraid to do anything but look away from unpleasant or dangerous behaviour, to stop bullying wherever we see it, and to recreate a community where aspirations can thrive and people of all ages are motivated to make the most of the most precious thing that each one of us has: our lives. I beg to move for Papers.


Overall I agree with what has been said but feel a more subjective view needs to also be taken. Poverty within the family is more widely spread than families with devastating issues such as drugs and alcohol. It has always been the case that 'Middle class' families suffer the burden of tax and benefit thresholds and I put it that if a sliding scale were to be implemented the gap would narrow.

Having been a single parent for six years, I myself found things a struggle and until you really live the struggle I believe it is difficult to have a true insight into the humiliation, debilitation and isolation of 'finding' yourself in that position and may I just say that that is not a criticism of those who have not had to endure being part of a single parent or poverty stricken family, its a reality and one I would not wish on any one however there are joyous and positive times and it is those struggles that perhaps give a person good strength of character and drive (I hope so anyway).

We live in a more disposable society today with greater expectations socially to have materialistic wealth. Although I have been known to sew on the odd button and darn the odd pair of socks this coping mechanism is more akin to that of my Grand parent’s era.

I accept today increasingly we live a society of co-habiting parents, single parents anything other than the traditional 'nuclear family', however this should not mean a higher probability of turning to drugs, alcohol and violence. Perhaps the focus should be on illustrating to the youth of today, who will be the parents of the future that opportunities are accessible and are TRUELY within their grasp and capabilities. This could perhaps be achieved by some sort of assertiveness and confidence building sessions within schools that are not actually too dissimilar the type of consultative support provided within big city firms whose members likewise endure highly stressful circumstances but of a different nature of course. Would top execs turn to drugs and alcohol if it were not for, excluding extremely high salaries but free gym membership, private health care and a personal psychotherapist for good measure?!

Long gone is the etiquette within the family home. There is no longer the time to sit at the table together, Dad walks in from work as Mum leaves to do a night shift?!

Again as a single parent and Full time Law student who spends 12 hours a week on a train commuting to university, I truly believe that what is lacking is peoples traditional family values, is the solution not going back to basics?

Sitting at the table to talk about our day and share joys and tribulations is my favorite part of the week with my son. It is one hour on a Sunday out of a very hectic week for me. However the rest of the week my son will still sit at a table to eat with or without me. Possibly I am somewhat more traditional than other families but the underlying principle of family values is the same.

Society is tired and worn out, keeping up with social expectations. A huge utility bill can prevent a perfectly justifiable and rightful shopping trip to the local Primark! It can even reduce family activities tremendously...it’s the difference between a walk round the block and a bag of chips on the way home (perfectly pleasant I might add), or a once in a life time trip to London with a tour round the city (houses of parliament included) on an open top red double decker. It is this painful and emotional lack of choices that draw families into the depths of literal and metaphorical depression which can certainly then lead the vulnerable on to becoming reliant on drugs and alcohol and so the vicious circle continues. It’s the difference between alcohol, drugs etc being a symptom, or a side effect, I would argue its both, which is why it is such a challenge to resolve.

I conclude that improving family’s quality of life and insight into realistic opportunities could have a huge impact on the reduction of anti-social behavior and drug/alcohol dependency and restore some traditional family values:

Could this possibly be achieved in two ways?

i - A sliding scale within the benefits system.

ii - Reducing the waiting lists for NHS counseling and other psychotherapy, to lower the risk of depression, drug and alcohol problems and violence.

iii - Life Coaching in schools - confidence and assertiveness building.

iv - wider access to career advise but with a wider purpose of support through the illustration of just how accessible and realistic opportunities are from a young age whilst children are still developing socially and behaviorally.

On a lighter note, we have a national fair-trade fortnight, national give up smoking week, why not a national sit down for a family meal Sunday!

Submitted by Emma-Jayne Eadon

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 11:52, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on securing this debate, which could not be on a more important topic. I apologise to the House that, because of a long-standing commitment, I shall have to be absent for part of the debate to host an event downstairs.

I am sure that the noble Baroness would be the first to agree that this topic is extraordinarily wide-ranging. Families and their role in society have been a key battleground in British politics, the central issue being the link between family breakdown and social disorder. Statistics show a correlation between family breakdown and forms of social disorder, but proving a causal link is much more complicated.

I shall concentrate on two small parts of the topic: those families with caring responsibilities and those who have children and are at the point of breakdown. Caring—I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK—is one family issue where the story is almost entirely positive. Families do not need strengthening in their commitment to provide care. One may hear rhetoric about families not caring any more, but it is simply not true. The obligation to care for your family is alive and well in our country. Six million people do it, willingly and with love, and nearly 1 million of them do it for more than 50 hours a week, with financial, health and physical consequences and a lot of emotional distress in many cases. In spite of the stress that they undoubtedly feel, however, there is no sign at all of caring families wanting in droves to give up their onerous responsibilities. We are lucky that that is the case, because how would we provide most of our social care if they wanted to give up?

None the less, we have responsibilities to strengthen these families, who are undoubtedly facing more caring problems, because people live longer with greater degrees of disability and with much more time at home or in the community than in hospital. Moreover, we are increasingly encouraging carers to combine paid work with caring, which means that, with longer working lives and people doing two jobs, we may need 9 million carers in future. We have to encourage that, but we may have to look differently at how we provide services.

Much progress has been made in this area in recent years, I am happy to say; I shall speak more on this in a debate in your Lordships' House next week. We have a Standing Commission on Carers and a new carers strategy is about to be launched. We also have the new agenda on social care, which promises more recognition for carers and caring families. There was a time when I felt like a lone voice on this issue, but I do not feel like that any more, I am happy to say.

The other topic that I want to address is the welfare of children at a time when family breakdown occurs. I declare an interest as chair of CAFCASS—the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. As the noble Baroness said, families today are not made in the image of families in the 1950s. Divorce happens, however sad we may be about it and however hard we may work to encourage lifelong pair bonds. Families are a different shape. I speak as somebody who is divorced, who has three step-grandchildren and a son-in-law older than I am. Many of us have such personal experiences. But if a husband and wife divorce, when there are children there are still family responsibilities, and the family, even if split, must be supported and nurtured, as it resolves its difficulties and moves to form and reform its shape. The welfare of the child must be paramount in that.

There are between 150,000 and 200,000 relationship breakdowns involving children in this country. The majority of children continue and want to have contact with both parents, although the nature and frequency of that contact varies. Children's experience of that contact varies, as does their experience of the ongoing relationship, according to the quantity and quality of the contact. There are few more distressing things than seeing parents attack each other in court, score points off each other over access sought and denied or engage in domestic violence both verbal and physical, all the time oblivious of the distress of the children.

Mercifully, about 90 per cent of divorcing parents reach agreement, but the 10 per cent who do not have major ongoing problems, which is where CAFCASS operates. Our skilled workers have to try to resolve disputes, some years long in duration, all the time being mindful of the Every Child Matters agenda about children being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and experiencing economic well-being, which is often a difficult matter in these cases. That is what every child deserves and it is what the skilled CAFCASS workers try to achieve.

We have made great strides in developing dispute resolution schemes, whereby families do not come to court at all but resolve their difficulties and reach agreement through family counselling or extended dispute resolution. We now find that 60 per cent of couples who come to dispute resolution can reach agreement—and the figures continue to rise. That is just one part of the whole family justice system beginning to look much more closely at prevention rather than going immediately down the court route. Certainly CAFCASS is increasingly involved in voluntary sector organisations, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and in trying to find other partners to provide a more integrated service where possible.

CAFCASS can contribute to more stable families by providing support to help parents to make contact work. We want to highlight opportunities for universal services, to spot warning signs of relationship breakdown at an early stage and to signpost both parents and children at critical moments. This work should and does place heavy emphasis on listening to children and finding out what their needs and feelings are. That is not an easy thing to do. Devising a feedback system in such sensitive areas as family justice is a complex matter, but we are making progress on that.

We have recently launched an online feedback system called HearNow, which seeks to capture the experience of children and families. It is at an early stage, but we will continue to develop it. A great deal of work has been conducted by our children's rights team, which has been exploring ways, in partnership with our young people's board, to ensure that the voice of children is at the heart of what we do. Together, they have devised a needs, wishes and feelings pack, which is used by our practitioners to ensure that children's voices are put directly in front of the courts and their views are put in their own words. In this and many other ways, we can help to ensure that family ties are continued and strengthened, even if the family itself is no longer in its original form.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities), Department for Communities and Local Government 12:00, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parks, for securing this important debate. The debate is timely because families, communities and the need for social action seem already to be the flavour of the year. We have seen frequent government pronouncements, particularly on youth crime and the role that parents and families can play. We have had repeated debates about immigration policies and their impact on community cohesion. There is no lack of advice from politicians, academics and practitioners. Today's debate gives us the opportunity to bring all these contributors together to see how effectively we can plan social action.

Another concern needs to be reflected. In January 2007, the Government published Strong and Prosperous CommunitiesThe Local Government White Paper Implementation Plan. It is a good read. It will be helpful if the Minister can give a progress report on how some of the key recommendations are being implemented. Let me give an example of why that is important. The Government say that they are,

"committed to empowering citizens and communities—to devolve more power locally and enable more choice, better redress and better opportunity for communities to own and run local services".

There is no problem with that. However, in some areas of government responsibilities, such as criminal justice matters, I see a tendency not to devolve but to centralise power. Communities and individuals, particularly young people, are less inclined to participate in our democratic process if they feel removed from the decision- making process.

We tend to forget that government can provide leadership, but only people and communities can deliver change. Nowhere is this more relevant than in matters relating to climate change, health, ageing and diet. No longer can we allow Whitehall to be in total charge of such issues. Many local authorities feel impotent, with the result that communities feel isolated, remote and distanced from the decision-making process that affects their lives. Community cohesion is a case in point. Whenever I hear government pronouncements on this subject, I feel that I want to scream. I do not for a moment dispute that the development of a value-driven British identity is a core goal, but you cannot respond to the debate about ethnicity, multiculturalism and immigration if you are not part of the consultative process.

Commentators, both politicians and the press, have pointed to the impact of globalisation, devolution and asylum and immigration issues, as well as to concerns over the growth of fundamentalism, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or that of other faiths. If the community is not part of the policy-making process, the only people who will benefit are extremists such as the British National Party.

We all accept that the old British spectrum of left and right is less important now and that politicians are competing to be tough on crime and promoting concepts such as community cohesion. However, frequent debates and statements on similar subjects lack strategic thought. They have therefore led to a search for shared values of what it might be to be English or British. Some have argued that it is important to articulate a shared sense of national identity in contemporary conditions of flux and change. If you accept this, how can you reconcile these values with diversity, openness and pluralism of belief and practice? We might add to this mix the destabilisation of the Middle East and the growth of terrorism and, as if that were not enough, supplement it with the alleged death of multiculturalism, which according to some opinion formers leads to separateness and ghettos.

I am quite happy that such issues should be addressed, but not in an atmosphere of hysteria predominantly directed at our Muslim community. We have gone through this phase before. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who I am glad to see is participating in this debate, chaired the Runnymede Trust's Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Those of us who participated did so with the intention of opening a national debate on the issues that we are addressing today, but the report was greeted with a sustained hysteria instigated both by politicians and the media. This is simply unacceptable.

It is right that in a democracy there should be a sensible debate about such issues. It is now more than 30 years since the Race Relations Act 1976 was introduced. Only last year we celebrated the bicentenary of the passage of the 1807 slave trade abolition Act. We have been at the forefront of legislation and other machinery to establish equality of opportunity for all our citizens. There is now a strong emphasis on race, disability, gender, age, faith and sexual orientation, which puts a new emphasis on promoting good relations between different groups.

It is clear that leadership is uneasy when issues of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism surface. There is a kind of schizophrenia in the state response to immigration on the one hand and community cohesion and a pluralist society on the other. The progress that we have made in achieving some sort of multiculturalism is too valuable to be treated cynically. This is backed up by a perception among the majority population that despite all our history and our pride in tolerance they are somehow not able to live as part of a community of communities.

Cultures do not remain static. Communities change. Conflict often occurs on matters of gender, generation, religion, language and the community's relationship with the wider society. There is nothing to be frightened about. We are already witnessing fusion in music, the arts and fashion. What is required is the political wisdom appropriate to a multicultural, multiracial and multireligious society. The narrow and often blurred focus on religion undermines an approach that takes into account political and social identities.

I am delighted that the debate has now moved to citizenship. I trust that this move will not be the death of multiculturalism but that we can finally clearly define what the concept of multiculturalism should really be about. It is right that we should celebrate British citizenship and the rights and responsibilities that come with it. If we built active participation of communities into our democratic process, supplemented by a sense of a united community, ethnicity and multiculturalism would be less contentious.

Citizenship means much more than learning English. No one disputes that communication helps to achieve an integrated society, but citizenship is about much more than that. It is a social contract encompassing the whole community. Its aim must be social inclusion, tolerance, equality and a diverse society where human rights flourish. It is also about balancing citizens' rights and responsibilities. Importantly, citizenship must also entitle individuals to state protection, respect for the diversity of their culture and freedom of expression. These are all encompassed within the framework of the Human Rights Act. It is not for the Government to pick and choose which rights suit them.

If we take this to its logical conclusion, citizenship cannot be divorced from the needs of the individual. The social contract must also include decent public services and decent social support for the weak and infirm, including those who feel persecuted. It must provide the community with a healthy and pollution-free environment. If individuals feel that they are protected from crime, that there is less oppression and that discrimination does not blight their lives, there will be respect towards a healthy, decent society. That is the way to achieve cohesion.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 12:10, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for giving us the opportunity to discuss these subjects. In the short time available to me, I will talk a little about the role of fathers in our society today. Fathers are, after all, about half the population, and they ought to be a fundamental part of our society. They are therefore most relevant to its cohesion.

In our debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which we recently sent to another place, the Government were prepared to put on a three-line Whip to remove the word "fathers" from the Bill. I understand that their reason was that the specific mention of a father was offensive to those women who want to form a partnership with another woman to bring up a child. I personally have no problem in accepting that two women committed to the welfare of a child could give that child the supportive parenting that he or she needs, provided that the child, if it is a boy, has somewhere in his life an appropriate male role model. Why do the Government give such priority to the concerns of what must be a very small group of women while putting at risk the something like 150 children every day of the year who are being permanently separated from their fathers? I hope that I am correct in that figure. I understand that the number of children in our society today who have no contact with their fathers is of the order of 800,000 and if you divide that by 365 days it comes out at 150 children a day.

I turn to the obvious question of why fathers matter; and I fear that I may be stating the obvious. US research shows that children, especially boys, need a male role model in their lives. At about the age of seven or eight, boys begin to ask themselves what it means to be a boy and how they are different from all those women who have dominated and surrounded their life up to that age. If the child then does not have a father or some other male role model, he tends to begin to see education as a girly thing and as the sort of thing that no self-respecting boy would indulge in. That is one reason why boys are achieving very much less good results at GCSE than girls.

Fathers also matter because they can take the strain off the mother by helping and sharing burdens and worries. Above all, a father matters because all children need security and love. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, mentioned love. However great the goodwill and commitment of one parent, it is harder for a single parent to find time to have that kind of relaxed relationship with the children that they need. Parenting alone, where money is short, is likely to be stressful, and there will be even less time and energy left over for love. Except where there is a breakdown in the parental relationship, two committed parents have an easier job than one and tend to be able together to give their child more security and more love.

All political parties today are concerned to eliminate financial poverty for children, and I wholly endorse that objective. Unfortunately, a small minority of children—although there are too many—are suffering from another kind of poverty; poverty of love. We should also be doing everything possible to eliminate poverty of love. How can that be done? Some years ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on a child maintenance Bill, said to me that you cannot make a law that a father must love his son. That is obviously true, and that is the nub of the problem. However, there are things that we could be doing to increase the chances that he will do so, and I will mention one or two of them.

First, you can reduce the chances that he will unintentionally or recklessly father a child who he does not want or will not accept and will not want to love and care for. Secondly, every boy and young man has to be taught in school and at other times in their lives that in our society today he will be held responsible jointly with the mother for any child that he fathers. He must understand that there will be penalties, including, but not restricted to, paying maintenance for the child.

The problem of teaching these facts is that our teachers of PSHE and citizenship in schools do not have a clearly defined statement by the Government or anyone else of the responsibilities of parenthood in the curriculum for PSHE. The "responsibilities of parenthood" are printed there in heavy type, but when I asked the department and the Minister, "Where do I find the responsibilities of parenthood clearly set out?", there is no answer. "It is in case law", they say. Maybe it is in case law, but that is not much help to parents and it certainly has never helped teachers who do not want to get on their back legs and start teaching a subject like this if they feel that they are not on firm ground. We have to set firm ground under the feet of teachers of this subject.

All this teaching needs to be repeated to mothers and fathers in ante-natal clinics before the child is born, and by nurses and health visitors in home visiting sessions after the child is born. It is extraordinarily depressing that many health trusts are foolishly and meanly cutting back on ante-natal and post-natal services. Yet those are the most important times of all to offer young couples guidance and support. Those are often the times when the mother and the father are vulnerable.

I shall mention one other of the many things that we could do to help couples to stay together and fulfil their role in bringing up their child. It would help enormously if within a day or two of the birth of their child they were offered appropriate and affordable housing that would enable them to start building a nest together for their new family. Living with your mother-in-law—God bless her—or in a hostel for four or five years before you get a house is almost certain death to any relationship, and certainly provides little opportunity for building a nest for the new family and for the child.

These are just a few of the things that I wanted to mention. Perhaps the most important of all is a change of heart. Fathers in our society need to be valued and encouraged to understand how important their role is. This is not to say that the important job of being a second parent cannot be done by someone else who is not the birth father. It is simply to recognise that without birth fathers it would be impossible to find enough people willing and able to do the job properly. We need to mobilise fathers to show them that we appreciate what they are doing and to challenge them to do more.

If we want cohesion in our society, we want to be clear about what our shared values are. We need a clear and enduring statement from government or from someone as to what the state will provide and what parents and their families should provide for themselves. Perhaps the first thing that society needs to do is to find a way of establishing those shared values about the roles and obligations of mothers and birth fathers in modern society.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 12:18, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for this debate. Much of what I am about to say will seem critical of some recent developments, so first let me be positive as we consider the case for strengthening families, community cohesion and social action. Let us remember that there are many signs of hope in families—the changing role of women and the possibility for fathers to be more involved in the care of their children. More of us are living longer and more children will know their grandparents and, indeed, their great-grandparents in meaningful relationships. That is something to celebrate. Fewer children are stigmatised because they live in one-parent families or are from different ethnic backgrounds.

Along with other organisations, the Church of England and its voluntary agencies such as the Children's Society or the Mothers' Union, or smaller diocesan organisations such as Welcare in my diocese, are committed to supporting families through prayer, pastoral care and in other practical ways—and through the provision of education. Many parishes and church schools offer parenting groups or classes for mothers and/or fathers. We try to play our part in strengthening families and building community cohesion.

However, in contributing to this debate I wish to focus on the delivery of family care at local borough level, for here—despite what were well intentioned changes in the delivery of services—it is our experience that the current situation on the ground is chaotic. Most local authorities are struggling with changes: establishing children's centres, drawing together teams from social services, education and health, coping with changing funding streams and working with new commissioning processes. As a result in my own diocese, Welcare, as a medium-sized voluntary organisation working with vulnerable families and children, is surviving only with difficulty. It had to downsize its services last year. For smaller organisations, it is even more difficult.

Uncertainty in funding is their greatest problem. There was a time when the voluntary sector complained about three-year funding agreements not providing enough security. Today, three-year funding is a luxury that it would love to have. Because local authorities have not been certain about their own funding streams, and have not managed to get robust and efficient commissioning processes established, they continue with roll-over funding. In the Borough of Greenwich last year, for example, Welcare's funding was initially rolled over for three months, then for another three months, then for six months to the end of the financial year. During that time, Greenwich invited tenders for work with children with disabilities and vulnerable children in need, and their families. Welcare submitted a bid for that—a major piece of work for it, as every tender is. Greenwich has now, in effect, abandoned that process and rolled over the funding again for another year. I do not wish to be critical of Greenwich or to make Welcare a special case; I cite them as typical examples of what is happening up and down the country.

What is the effect of all this on the work? First, there is a loss of experienced staff. During the past year in Greenwich, Welcare has lost all the crèche workers who had been with the charity for several years, and their very experienced social worker. Its centre, a community flat on a housing estate, is now staffed by temporary workers. Those staff, naturally, do not know the families on the estate and have no long-term commitment to make those relationships—and the families suffer. Because the previous staff were known on the estate, women did call in for help when there was a domestic violence crisis and the staff were able to spot changes in children's behaviour signalling that all was not well at home.

Families in chaos themselves are not helped by chaos in the helping organisations, and the fact that the statutory bodies are in chaos over new arrangements for children's services and new ways of funding causes a once efficient and reliable voluntary organisation to seem chaotic because of staff turnover and the inability to plan ahead. That is not good for families and children who need stability and routine.

Yet another factor making life difficult for small and medium-sized voluntary agencies, of which Welcare is typical, is that they now have to compete for work with much larger charities. I am sure that the theory behind this was to ensure value for public money. However, the results can be very different. In the Borough of Lambeth, for example, Welcare has been doing work on contract with the borough since the 1970s and delivered excellent services to hard-to-reach families. The borough had contracted work with a number of such voluntary agencies—both large and small—who had worked well together, delivering different programmes to suit different needs and offering some choice to families. Now, the contract for family support in Lambeth for vulnerable and at risk families has gone to one single, large national charity, so ending both the long-standing relationship with the borough's statutory services and the established network of relationships with local families.

The very process of constant tendering is burdensome and time consuming. A major tender is at least a week's work for one member of staff, with others contributing, and if the bid is unsuccessful that money is totally wasted. In the past, volunteers did a lot of fundraising and helped with applications to statutory bodies, but the tendering process is now so complex that it has to be done by paid, professional staff. Not many charities can afford that.

Finally, voluntary organisations are concerned that services are now so prescribed that the flexible response to human need becomes nigh impossible. Contracts mean that they can accept only certain referrals from certain sources. Hence the Welcare centre in a local community, which was once a resource known and used by local families and recommended from one family to another by word of mouth, is disappearing.

I have related this saga in some detail because I believe that Welcare is by no means untypical. In the name of efficiency we are seeing chaos and the destruction of many small and medium-sized voluntary caring agencies with previously long-term commitments to family care and support. I realise that this might have seemed a depressing account, but, in my experience, it is an accurate account. Day by day, I deal with people who give their professional lives to attempting to strengthen family life. I trust that our debate today will help to make their life more productive.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 12:25, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend on this very timely debate. I shall concentrate my comments on community cohesion. The term community cohesion, like the term multiculturalism, has become a description relating predominantly to ethnic minority communities. That is always the wrong starting point.

Great Britain has been and will always remain a place that attracts people from all over the globe. In view of her history, that is not surprising, as Britain has historical links with large parts of the world—and even today a legacy of Britishness survives in all those lands. And yet we find in our own country that we have to define what Britishness is and what it means; we test people for Britishness. As a child growing up in a Britain where the immigrant population was much smaller than it is now, I did not grow up feeling I did not belong and yet it seems, over four decades on, that suddenly second, third and even fourth generation members of the ethnic minority communities are being queried on this notion.

From multiculturalism—an idea that is, by and large, perceived now as having failed—we turn to community cohesion, a replacement name for what will, I suppose, be another concept that will be regarded as failed unless we get to grips with what underpins the problems facing many parts of Great Britain. Today in Great Britain, many face lack of access to social mobility, poor job prospects and lack of educational attainment. I argue that that creates many of the difficulties facing our communities today. The very nature of our society has changed: more and more people are engaged in under-age drinking, drugs and sexual participation. The number of single-parent households is set to outnumber married or two-parent households and the absence of father figures in many homes has, of course, had an enormous impact on children and young peoples' lives both economically and emotionally.

So let us, first, define what we really mean by community cohesion. In my mind, cohesion means to come together and yet we know that cohesion cannot be forced as in multiculturalism. It must be shared; it must have common goals which bring communities together—not, as we have often heard, one being tolerant of another, which identifies us as having an intolerance, or having to put up with something that is different. Having spent all my life striving for integration, at no point have I felt a forced sense of belonging. I find that I enjoy all the positive aspects of my adopted home and still retain a great sense of pride in my historical links with the country of my birthplace and that of my parents. No one has asked me to compromise on that. Instead I feel enriched by a much broader understanding of what exists around me.

I return to the concept of cohesion, today in parts of Britain. Black-on-black crime is increasing, and media headlines regularly highlight the increase in gang membership. Why do those young people resort to believing that belonging to a gang gives them a sense of belonging? Within the gangs they create structures of hierarchy, rules and boundaries, so why, as a society, have we failed to engage them positively in activity that will give them the same empowerment? Why do we now live in a culture where, too often, our streets are taken over by young people who have consumed cheap drink and drugs and display aggressive street behaviour? Let us look at community cohesion not, as is so often the case, along the lines of faith, but as a positive or negative factor of social and economic development. Let us question and respond to the issues that alienate communities and separate them from each other.

To be a successful community, of course, we must be able to communicate and have the knowledge and ability to speak the language of the country in which we live. As a child, I remember that my mother always insisted that we speak English at home so that she could converse easily when she went out. Yet I still come across many people, particularly women from the south Asian communities, who, having lived in Britain for so many years, still cannot speak or understand English. This creates barriers and encourages separate existences. Sadly, in many cases, it has been encouraged by the male members of those particular households. Millions have been spent on interpretation services. This, I am afraid, has only added to the problem and the funding of groups that have been set up in creating activities to empower so-called community leaders. Handing powers and importance to them has allowed many community leaders to speak on behalf of communities without having to consult the communities they purport to speak on behalf of.

Ted Cantle, in his report following the riots in the north of England, highlighted the existence of parallel lives. Although much has been done to lessen tensions, cosmetic remedies are not the answer. Communities still continue to ghettoise themselves and, in parts of the country, self-created cultural apartheid is beginning to show its head. Of course, we can understand some of the reasons behind the rejections by some communities of aspects of Great Britain today: the decline in values and respect. Civic society must re-establish itself if we are to win the hearts and minds of all who live within it, particularly if some communities feel that they are under attack, and the need to create communities within communities.

There must be an open and honest debate. I can assure your Lordships that many thousands of people from ethnic minority communities want us to stand up and speak openly on their behalf. They feel voiceless and unrepresented. They want to live in a country that is their home. They do not want to live parallel lives. I know how difficult that is.

Faith has become a dividing factor for many. Yet, as a close friend of mine said, when children play together, eat together and even fight together, they learn to live together. I think that is right. By ignoring the real issues of poverty, lack of opportunity, poor educational attainment and poor access to better social and economic mobility, we ensure that fragile structures become even more fragile. Moderate voices get no airtime, as those who wish to see extreme consequences take over the debate. They shelter under the guise of moderation and yet continue to support separateness away from the glare of the spotlight.

In some communities, we have seen steps taken backwards. That cannot be right. In the 1970s, I, along with many others, fought the rise of the National Front. There was a collective spirit and will. We need that collective spirit and will again to ensure that we have a cohesive community: a sharing of common goals and ambitions. My parents, like many, came from a different land. They were willing to accept that this great country provided them with opportunity and a great welcome. However, they, too, had a duty to accept that it was a different place to the place they had come from, so they had to learn to adapt too. For generations like me, it has been a hard battle to convince people that one never loses an identity, but gains several new ones.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 12:34, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has secured this debate, and it is a great pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. So many good things have happened for communities and families over the past 10 years that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps an appropriate place would be in thanking my noble friend the Minister for his concern, support and ingenuity in dealing with the Children and Young Persons Bill currently going through your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, rightly asked for social action. What better social action plan could there be for families and communities than the recent Children's Plan—of which more later—Building Brighter Futures?

I said that much has happened, and perhaps my noble friend the Minister could remind us of the financial and other support which has gone into the early years, maternity and paternity rights, tax credits, increases in child benefit and the establishment of child trust funds. I shall focus today on three issues which demonstrate the Government's commitment to building safer and healthier communities. These are children's trusts, extended schools and the delivery of drug treatment.

The Government have, in the local government White Paper implementation plan Strong and Prosperous Communities, expressed their commitment to empowering citizens and communities, and creating opportunities to run local services. Ownership of community goals is absolutely crucial, not only to delivering services but to how people behave in communities, help each other and protect the environment and public safety.

Extended schools are one way of delivering the Every Child Matters agenda, by working with local providers, agencies—in many cases, other schools—to provide access to a core offer of extended services. This core offer includes a varied menu of activities for primary and secondary schools, childcare between 8 am and 6 pm, where appropriate, for 48 weeks a year for primary schools; parent support; swift access to specialised support services; and community access to ICT, sport and arts facilities. To support the extended schools initiative, £680 million has been made available. Local authorities are major partners, and have a role in identifying local needs, co-ordinating and commissioning services, and championing the needs of children, young people and their families.

I have seen that in action. The primary school where I am a governor has extended its community offering in sport and for parental and community experiences. We are a diverse school in a diverse community, and are particularly encouraging parents to get involved in IT, science days, sports and dietary issues. Local firms have sponsored the very smart kit for our successful soccer teams. This helps to increase the sense of pride and self-esteem in pupils and parents. I ask the Minister what the evaluation of the extended schools scheme has shown so far.

Children's trusts, underpinned by the Children Act 2004, bring together key agencies which deliver services for children, young people and their families. Features include professionals working together, reduction in duplication of effort and better information sharing, and joint planning and commissioning of services and resource allocation. Agencies may include health, social care, the voluntary sector and consultation with schools. The recent Children's Plan, which I mentioned earlier, states that to deliver a vision for children, system-wide reforms will be required. By putting the needs of children and families first, services should make more sense to those using them,

"for whom professional boundaries can appear arbitrary and frustrating".

How often have we debated that issue in relation to children and families? I ask the Minister for an update on how children's trusts are working, perhaps with some examples of good practice.

On drug strategy, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, the NTA. I shall not ask the Minister any questions about drugs, otherwise he may assume that I am not doing my job properly. The NTA was set up in 2001 and charged with doubling the number of people in treatment by 2008. This we did two years early; the figure has increased from 85,000 in 2001 to 205,000 in 2008. We all know that drugs can not only badly affect individual health but destroy families and have disastrous effects on communities. The Government have focused funding on drug treatment, rising from £300 million in 2001 to £800 million in 2008.

The NTA was set up to help with business planning and monitoring at a local level. This has meant that not only are there more people in treatment, but waiting times for treatment have dramatically decreased from nine to three weeks. In this country, we now have more people in treatment than most other European nations or the United States. There are better services in the criminal justice system, better after-care services, better involvement of users and carers, higher staffing levels and better monitoring services. When I visit services around the country, I am impressed by the success of a variety of approaches and by the many individual success stories from former users of hard drugs. I quote from our latest annual report:

"Although drugs policy and strategy are set nationally, translating these into effective delivery for clients and communities must be done locally. Ensuring this happens is the remit of the NTA's regional teams".

This essential community ownership of national, as well as local, policy is the key challenge, but it can be done. In Birmingham, for example, a treatment effectiveness initiative pilot was set up involving all 26 drug-treatment agencies and 200 drugs workers and their clients, including criminal justice clients. At the heart of the programme is a care-planning approach that encourages self-evaluation of the clients' needs, selecting goals and planning their own care and treatment. The new drugs strategy, published yesterday, continues the emphasis on families and communities and on care pathways from assessment to aftercare. My new noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, has developed a brilliant community engagement model at the University of Central Lancashire where members of communities are trained to assess the needs of drug users for services and support in their local areas.

I have given examples today of how government commitment and funding can improve the lives of all families and communities. We have excellent action plans, and I look forward to the Minister's comments.

Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Conservative 12:42, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on her excellent debate. One would think that her extensive summary of the key issues would have given all the aspects full attention, but successive speakers have raised further areas where there is more we all have to do to ensure that we have the strong families and stable communities that are so fundamentally important to well- adjusted, constructive young people.

Following the comments of the noble Baroness, I ask the Minister to comment in particular on the profession of health visiting. In my experience, health visitors have an almost unique opportunity to talk to families when they are being formed about the critical issues involved. With the best will in the world, a social worker has a difficult entrance to a family and can pose a threat, but a health visitor has legitimacy and authority. In the many years that I spent working in the inner city with some of the most disadvantaged families, it was health visitors who could enlighten and educate. If only that enlightenment and education was not just about what a baby should weigh, what it should eat or how many times it should be washed but also about encouraging parents to feel that it is a long-term project with a great number of difficulties along the way. With that, I move on to the many voluntary groups helping parents to be better parents. It is tough being a parent, and children are not always mild, obedient, good and kind. It is very easy for all of us who are rather beyond parenting—most of us, there are a few exceptions—to have a sentimental attitude, but children can be ghastly even in the most well-ordered households. Support and encouragement for parents, using health visitors, is crucial.

I move on to the school. My noble friend Lord Northbourne has badgered many of us in and out of office over many years on the importance of families. I share his views on the importance of fathers, but in many areas young people have no exposure to men. The one place they may have that exposure is at school. I ask the Government, as I asked several years ago, to reconsider allowing all-male shortlists for primary school teachers. When we debated having all-female shortlists for parliamentarians, I made the point that I thought all-male shortlists at primary schools might be as important for the future well-being of our country as all-female shortlists for parliamentarians. That is very important.

I wish to speak about uniformed organisations. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is in his place. He has obtained debates about offenders and young people who have no stakeholders or champions. A difficult child may be cared for by his family, his grandparent or his aunt. He may be sent to a special school, or social services may find special provision. My experience as a juvenile court chairman was that children who nobody cared about were the ones who ended up in court. They did not have a stakeholder, a champion, guiding them, caring for them or controlling them. Of all the organisations that can often do an enormous amount with a disturbed and troubled young person, the uniformed organisations have a special advantage because as the child puts the uniform on, he puts on a new persona. It gives him a sense of confidence and identity. Most of those organisations have gradual steps of achievement as children gain their badges. I worked at a time when there was suspicion about whether uniformed organisations were authoritarian and old-fashioned. My view is that they make an incredible contribution, in particular, the Guides, the Scouts and the Boys' Brigade.

I have a practical point for the Minister. Why can we not have a culture where we have paid leave for volunteers in uniformed organisations in the same way that we do for magistrates? There is no problem about magistrates getting paid leave, but it is incredibly difficult for volunteers in the uniformed organisations. They take their leave out of their own pocket to do so much for young people who are often in very difficult circumstances. We are promoting a culture where employer-supported volunteering is becoming ever more important. I would like to see an experiment where we make it as easy for volunteers as it is for the magistracy to find the time to support young people because what young people need is the continuity and stability of a family. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, will speak in due course. I do not entirely agree with him about the role of the family and globalisation, but I do think that as family styles change, children need those continuities of relationship even more, so that the person who checks a child at three months, at three years, at nine and at 13 has the legitimacy to have an influence when the child is 16. The people who control and influence are the people who praise us as well as punish us. Just having people in a punitive role is not as effective in bringing out the best in people. Therefore, we need to look again at community people who will give that time, care and commitment.

That brings me on to mentoring. There are a lot of interesting mentoring programmes under way. I consulted the young people who work in my firm, and several of them are involved in projects hearing reading in schools. Others are involved in Adab, a programme set up to help black and minority ethnic youngsters get on, particularly those with a Muslim background. I ask the Minister for more mentoring, paid leave for those working in uniformed organisations, single-sex shortlists at primary schools and more health visitors, but even then there will be much more for us to do.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 12:48, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for initiating this important debate and for the good sense in her speech, which echoed some important points made over recent months by Iain Duncan Smith, whom I have listened to with appreciation.

I should like to underline the significance of place—the home and the neighbourhood; in other words, location, location, location. Where you live—your immediate environment—has a huge impact on your life chances, your social mobility and your opportunity and capacity to achieve at school and at work, to bring up your family successfully and to be a good neighbour and a good citizen. Unpopular, troubled places—so often council estates or social housing where past policies have concentrated the poorest households, those without jobs and facing the most problems—not only reflect the continuing inequalities in our society but exacerbate and perpetuate them.

At its simplest, if a family lives in an overcrowded, insanitary place—I recently visited a family of five living in a one-bedroom flat with very little prospect of being rehoused in the near future—normal family life is impossible. It is hard to be a good parent or a good pupil when you are all living on top of each other. Tempers get frayed; there is little chance of doing any homework at home; and children's health and parents' mental health suffers badly.

The Government's efforts to ensure that there are enough decent homes to go around should certainly remain a very high priority, but outside the home itself, place can exert a powerful influence. If the school's catchment area is a neighbourhood where most children grow up with the attitude that school is rubbish, where truancy is rife and exclusion from school is a badge of honour, there is no point just blaming the teachers. It is the milieu, the prevailing culture of the place, as well as its physical conditions that hamper the capacity to learn.

A Member in the other place recently told me that last year only six people from his deprived urban constituency went to university—that is six people in a year from one parliamentary constituency. In Sussex or Surrey, one small village would contribute more young people to university. The place predicts and determines educational attainment. To me, it follows that we should think about different approaches to education, to school, for different areas. Current systems are failing in some places, so should we think about a different curriculum, different teaching methods, different ways of engaging parents, depending on the nature of the place?

Similar considerations apply to the causes and, perhaps, the solutions to so many other social problems: teenage pregnancy, drug misuse, alcohol abuse, many aspects of health. Of course you will reoffend if you leave a young offender institution and return straight back to the neighbourhood and the influences that led you into the criminal activity in the first place.

The place where you live can bring you down and hold you down. We must take account of that, not only in adapting national policies to fit local circumstances but by tackling the problems of place head on. That begins with housing policies. We must backtrack on the policies for allocating social housing that can lead to American-style ghettos of the dispossessed. Incorporating affordable, subsidised housing within mixed-income, mixed-tenure communities of owners and tenants together changes the image of the place and the self-image of those who live there. In a mixed community, children whose parents are young homeowners with a car go to the same primary school as their neighbour's children although the neighbour's home may be rented from a social housing landlord. But their properties are identical and there is nothing to show from the outside that their homes are different. The role models and influences of the school then come from people of a mixed background.

Government must also look at those policies that are specifically targeted at trying to change neighbourhoods. Many of them grew out of the Social Exclusion Unit's most famous report, which produced the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal at the very beginning of this decade. It led to powerful place-based action, such as the New Deal for Communities and the projects that came under the heading of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. Those initiatives do not come cheap, and neither do the excellent Sure Start schemes around the country, but they promote local measures that change a place, they support leadership within local communities, and they promote ways of neighbours doing positive things together. They are slowly but, in many places, successfully transforming neighbourhoods.

I say to the Minister: please tell your colleagues to keep the faith, not to retreat from the commitment made six years ago that no one should be disadvantaged by where they live by 2020, to recognise that place has the power to ruin life chances or, with resources and commitment, to give real hope and opportunity to some of our most excluded families.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Deputy Chief Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 12:55, 28 February 2008

My Lords, when I saw the title of this debate, what attracted my attention was the community cohesion part. I may not quite give the same emphasis to families as did the noble Baroness in her opening remarks, but I want to draw attention to something that can help most communities; that is, the structure of amateur sports clubs. I do so not because those sports clubs have a particular virtue in themselves but because they draw on the groups within them and make them come together. I refer to the local sports club and not to the idea of sport generally—that is, a club that has to come together as a unit to achieve its goals. Effectively, the selfishness of those involved is brought together in a group. I refer to anyone who has had the wonderful experience of trying to get a team together for a Saturday afternoon. What is required? First, you must identify those who want to take part with you. You have to do something so that they know that you are there and that you can reach them. That involves identifying people at schools who might eventually want to come to play in your club—if it is for adults—and giving them a reason to participate with you before they have left school. You bring people together in a coherent group. You then have to train them and provide support and organisation to get them to come to join in the activity that you want them to be involved in. You have to have organisation, support, coaching and training.

You also have to make sure that you fund your organisation. I do not know how this fits in with great comments about binge drinking and free alcohol, but that usually means providing a clubhouse and a bar. You also have to man the organisation. You need club secretaries, treasurers and all those other groups. What have you done at the end of it? In order to get 11 like-minded fellows together to kick a ball around—to take a sport that is not my own—you must provide a structure which involves two or three times that number of people. You must interact with another group with the same aims. They must be fairly local because you do not have a great amount of time. You have to interact with each other.

We are effectively covering most of the forms of activity that have been suggested by virtually every other noble Lord, and more widely. I take the health benefits as read. What do we need to try to encourage that activity? We need, for example, public space that is available for sport. We can take as read the usual arguments about playing fields and their history; are the Government going to ensure that there is easy access to public facilities of sufficient quality for use both casually and by sports teams, especially in the start-up period? The idea has been that if you leave something derelict for five years, you can get rid of it. Have much further have we got? Are we making sure that local authorities have the encouragement and advice to enable them to access that local resource?

Are we trying to get people to undertake an activity that brings about interaction with their neighbours on a friendly basis and encourages responsibility, even if it is only the responsibility of turning up? Anyone who has been involved in a local sports club knows that the shaming, shall we say, of someone who is consistently late or occasionally does not make it is quite an impressive force. Take your Lordships' House. You get tutted if you regularly do not turn up for a debate or scratch your a name off the list. There are also debates that cannot take place at all. That is magnified when it involves your leisure activity. There is a considerable amount of pressure on someone to ensure that they honour their commitments. What are we doing to help?

We are at a very interesting point in sports development in this country. As we have heard, the Treasury is much more involved than it was. Let us face it; when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport bureaucracy cranks into gear, it does not exactly intimidate the rest of Whitehall. The Treasury does. How far is the Treasury trying to guarantee this type of activity?

We have heard, and will hear, a great deal about school sports. Seventy per cent of people, I think, drop out of regular sport when they leave school, so ultimately it makes no difference to the health benefits if you concentrate only on school sports and have nowhere for that to go. What are the Government doing to encourage these local groups, which, without any need for a bleeding heart or any great need to solve the problems of the world, do what they enjoy or indulge in an activity that encourages responsibility and provides role models and interaction with their peers? What are we doing in this area? If the Government make just a little effort here, they may well find that a door will fly open and that many of the goals will be achieved for them. I look forward to hearing some encouraging answers.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 1:00, 28 February 2008

My Lords, like many noble Lords who have spoken before me, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and congratulating her on securing this debate. We all agree on the importance of social cohesion. We also share the widespread feeling that, for all kinds of reasons, social cohesion is weakening and that we should do something about it. This question is particularly urgent in relation to ethnic minorities. I shall therefore concentrate on them.

We are told that social cohesion is weakening and is being frayed and undermined because of something called multiculturalism. The answer, we are told, lies in something called a shared sense of Britishness. I have some difficulty with both these notions, and I shall spend the time allotted to me concentrating on these two questions.

Multiculturalism has emerged as a new villain. We are told this by no less a person than Trevor Phillips, who was with me on the Runnymede Trust's Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain and who signed up, at least at the time, to the view that multiculturalism has a lot to be said for it. Of course people are welcome to change their minds, and he is certainly welcome to do that. More recently, David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, has added his voice to this and told us that multiculturalism is the new devil shadowing our community.

I ask myself what is being dismissed or attacked in the name of multiculturalism. There is always a danger of setting up a straw man, knocking him down, and in the process losing some of the important ideas that we might have developed over the years. I suggest that we are in danger of making precisely that mistake. For reasons that I do not understand, multiculturalism is equated with cultural apartheid or, if you are a philosopher, with some kind of cultural relativism, which basically means that every community is a law unto itself and should not be touched. Its customs, practices and beliefs are beyond question because each community is entitled to its own standards of right and wrong. I am surprised that the term has come to mean that. This is not what it has generally meant—the kind of policy that we have followed in this country since the 1960s in the name of multiculturalism—and no one of sane mind contributes to the preposterous doctrine that every community is a moral law unto itself.

Basically, multiculturalism means two things. First, it means that people are culturally embedded and live out their lives from a particular way of looking at the world. Secondly, it means that no culture is perfect and that therefore every culture benefits from a dialogue with others—hence the emphasis on multiculturalism. Obviously not all forms of cultural diversity can be tolerated; everyone recognises this. Even within a community, certain forms of diversity are not tolerated, so there is already the presumption that there are certain universal principles that will help us to decide what cultural beliefs and practices should be tolerated and which ones should not.

There is an agreement, by and large, that we should rely on the principles of human rights, on which there is a considerable amount of universal consensus. This is how we have understood multiculturalism in this country ever since I have known it, which is going back nearly 40 or 45 years. We are all agreed that there are certain principles that will lay down the framework within which there will be relations between different cultures. This is why we have banned certain practices, such as female circumcision or polygamy, without any opposition from any ethnic minority that I know of. No community objected to this because by and large it was agreed that these were unacceptable practices.

This is also how and why we welcomed, or at least tolerated, certain minority practices, such as ritual animal slaughter among Jews and Muslims, or the Hindu practice of scattering the ashes of the dead in our rivers. Initially there was some opposition, but then people said that there was nothing wrong with it because it did not violate any of the basic principles. Then there is the Sikh practice of wearing a turban, Muslim girls wearing a hijab in schools, Muslim and Hindu nurses being allowed to wear their traditional dresses under their uniforms, or the Islamic practice of finance that bans interest.

In all these cases, we have shown respect for certain minority practices and tried to make provision for those that do not violate what we take to be the fundamental values of our society. In all these cases, multiculturalism was a way of showing respect for minority practices when they did not violate certain principles: in other words, when they deserved respect. Multiculturalism was therefore a way of integrating minority communities, not disintegrating them. It was a vital measure toward national integration—a nation-building project. This is how it has always been seen wherever it has been practised, whether in Canada, Australia, India or the United States, where hyphenated identities and multicultural curricula are a common practice.

As far as I understand him, this is also what the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to say in an interesting speech. Of course there were a couple of potentially misleading expressions, but by and large his basic thesis in that lecture, if carefully read, and in the more important lecture which he delivered last year, was that we need to agree on certain common principles, subject to which we should have multiculturalism in the form of intercultural dialogue. Let us not discard multiculturalism or try to demonise it even before we have had a chance to understand it, because it does not mean what it is taken to mean. It has stood us in good stead and allowed us to chalk up a wonderful record compared with France, the Netherlands and many other countries.

I shall briefly discuss the idea of Britishness. We all agree that there must be a shared sense of national identity if people are to live and work together and develop a common sense of loyalty. I am not entirely happy with equating British national identity with Britishness. I do not quite know what the word means. It is also rather striking that we seem to be one of the few countries in the world to use that expression. No one talks about "Americanness", "Canadianness", "Frenchness", "Indianness" or "Germanness". What we really need to understand is that Britishness is not like redness; it is not a shared, empirically understandable set of characteristics. Basically, being British means two things. First, it means a certain sense of commitment to political institutions and practices that we share, and showing loyalty to them. Secondly, it means some form of identification with our fellow citizens; the recognition that they are my people and that I belong to them just as they belong to me. The question for us is therefore how we foster these qualities; that is, loyalty to the country, and a sense of identification. I suggest that two things are needed. First, the wider society needs to recognise that the minorities in its midst should be treated with respect, given equal opportunities and a stake in the country, and accepted as one of us. For their part, the minorities need to recognise that this is the country in which they have chosen to make their home. It is not theirs by accident or birth; they have made the choice. They must show sensitivity to the feelings of the majority communities, take an active part in them and recognise that their interests and their future are deeply bound up with the future of the country at large.

We have made considerable progress in that direction. Hindus, Sikhs and Jews are a fully integrated part of our society, so are a large body of Muslims. However, one problem which tends to arouse a lot of fear and panic concerns a small section of young Muslims. Alienated from their own culture and their own society, they feel deeply concerned about certain issues. The problem therefore is specific and does not concern ethnic minorities in general where there is no problem. The problem is that one small section of society feels alienated. What should we be doing about this?

I say that because it is important not to panic. When we panic and feel that the cultural fabric that we have built together is falling apart—about which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, spoke with great eloquence and about which my noble friend Lord Giddens has written with great passion—and that all we have been doing for the past 40 years has fallen apart, there is always a danger that we will make wrong choices. We may pick on a community and create a climate in which that community feels besieged, which is the surest way to undermine all that we have achieved and to fail to achieve what we need to achieve.

Photo of Baroness Platt of Writtle Baroness Platt of Writtle Conservative 1:11, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for initiating this debate. Its aim is crucial to the future of our country and I am very struck by the sense of agreement on all sides of the House. For generations, all over the world, the family has always been the basic unit of a stable society. Having enjoyed a happy marriage and the loving support of my children and grandchildren now, I believe that more support for life-long marriage needs to be woven into our society. Of course, every marriage has its ups and downs, and rows and arguments, but, as every golden wedding couple says, "A happy marriage is a matter of give and take on both sides". That is not easy and on occasion may fail, but for the couple and, especially, for the happy and successful bringing up of the children, it is worth the effort to retain the stability of the marriage. We read regularly in the media of the heartbreak of the children if their parents part. Obviously, constant rows are bad, but Relate can help in highlighting what can be done by a couple to restore friendly stability.

As a former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, I believe deeply in equal opportunities for men and women. Such worthwhile schemes as job-share, flexi-time and bridging career breaks, which enable women to combine rewarding work with stable family life and not losing their skills, are essential for the women and their employers. Those sorts of ideas flexibly carried out certainly help to strengthen families over the long term for both fathers and mothers.

I am fortunate to live in a village with a strong sense of community, and a friendly church and chapel. We have an excellent parish council, the scouts, the guides, a women's institute, a link club for elderly people, keep fit and the Workers' Education Association. The list is wonderful and they are all supported by enthusiastic volunteers. Last summer, we hosted the Centennial World Scout Jamboree when 40,000 young people visited Writtle from all over the world. No litter was left behind and 30,000 hours of fantastic voluntary work was done locally.

I believe deeply in voluntary work. It is done for love, which gives it a special commitment. I wish that the media would put far more emphasis on the good things that people do. It says, "Bad news sells newspapers" and I say, "Not to me". We need far more news of the good things that people do, not just news about knifings and muggings. That would bring back into fashion the need for the young to engage their futures in that way, thus making it cool. Most young people are jolly good. They do Duke of Edinburgh awards; they belong to the scouts, the guides, youth orchestras and schools; and they help charities. I do not think there are any reporters in the Press Gallery at the moment, but they should give the work of young people a well deserved boost. "Come on media", I say.

Recently, I was very interested to read the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, on the Commission for the Future of Volunteering. Voluntary work certainly should be encouraged for its help to the disadvantaged and the often unexpected rewards it gives to volunteers. Many voluntary organisations contribute to social cohesion, but my special one is the hospice movement, which is partly NHS-funded and partly professionally staffed, and provides devoted care for the terminally ill. It is also dependent on its enormous number of volunteers who are equally devoted to palliative care, which controls pain and protects quality of life for very vulnerable patients.

Macmillan nurses and Samaritans are wonderful too, as are the organisations specialising in care for the blind, the deaf and the arthritic. As many noble Lords have said, how lucky we are in our country to have the loving work of all those people. I was fascinated to read in the Times last week about Starley Road, a housing co-operative in Coventry. It is run on a voluntary basis to provide affordable homes for those who are in need; that is, single people, families, the elderly, the young and some people with learning difficulties. I had not heard of anything like it before. People put their names on a waiting list and invest £1 in the co-op when they move in. They promise to attend the regular community meetings, which are held to solve problems together. When they have unruly young people or thoughtless, drunken, noisy neighbours, they call a meeting and sort it out among themselves, without calling the police. All ages work together. The partnership really works, and small is beautiful.

I believe that this Government are trying to do too much centrally. The man in Whitehall does not know best: he is too far removed from local communities. Communities are very diverse. Newcastle is different from Essex, and I am an Essex girl. The key to success is locally-elected government, and parish, district and council councils. I am not in favour of too much emphasis on regions or directly-elected mayors. It should be left to the councils to elect their leadership: in fact, leave it local. It will not always get it right, but it will soon find out if it is getting it wrong.

Councillors meet on the street the people whom they are elected to serve. After my 30 years in local government—district and county—and my husband's 17 years on the parish council, I know what I am talking about. It is not always comfortable. One has to learn from one's mistakes, must consult carefully if there is to be change, and must learn from the local people's response, not just from national pressure groups. We must get back to careful integrity in public service from the officers and members at all levels. As long as they are near enough to the local people, representatives will be trusted. In addition, the necessary finance must be provided fairly, which is up to the Government. People locally will be given a sense of responsibility to their community. We need all levels of local government to work in partnership and with local voluntary groups. That is the name of the game. It is worthwhile even when it is difficult, which it will be sometimes, and it is something that we all have to learn.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 1:19, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, on securing this important debate. I want to focus on how we can enable relationships across the generations to be stronger and, through that, communities to be more sustainable and stable. It is critically important to enable families, however they are structured, to stay together. This is the priority of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and I declare an interest as a member.

When seeking to protect people suffering discrimination or inequalities, which is one of the primary roles of the commission, we have to take on board the fact that women, despite a great deal of progress in equality at work, still lose out in terms of career, salary and opportunities for promotion compared with men as soon as they have children, and especially if they seek part-time employment. Parenting often exacerbates financial stresses and problems, leading to separation and divorce. We also need to take on board the fact that parenting involves fathers. Their potential as well as their actual role is certainly not seen to be as critical as that of the mother in terms of policies and practice. One example is the differential in maternity and paternity leave. I hope the Minister will agree that the work/home life balance is critical and that we must encourage good parenting by both men and women.

In terms of intergenerational relationships the role of the wider family, and especially that of grandparents, is of critical importance. I was delighted to learn yesterday that grandparents are going to be given financial support and legal backing to make it easier for them to take over the care of children whose parents are drug users. I hope that we can be assured that this help will be extended to families where other physical or mental health problems can necessitate grandparents taking on a crucial caring role, one still not always recognised as qualifying for financial and other support even though their role is better acknowledged in the Children and Young Persons Bill now going through your Lordships' House and for which the Minister is responsible. I feel that there is still room for improvement if grandparents are to be recognised and given adequate help in the future.

Turning to the wider community, I warmly welcome the work of the Department for Communities and Local Government, which launched its strategy entitled Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods this week and on which the International Longevity Centre, a think tank I head, has been co-operating. It is excellent that the Government recognise that building lifetime neighbourhoods is necessary for community cohesion and are introducing a joined-up approach to ensure that housing, shared open spaces and infrastructure are suitable for all. It is essential that people of all ages and backgrounds feel at ease in their local community and that the environment itself is a factor in promoting good relations. This strategy promotes social cohesion from the perspective of an ageing population, but focuses on sustainable intergenerational communities which include accessible transport, information, health and social care where needed in a safe and friendly atmosphere, where people can contribute as well as receive advice and help when necessary.

As the Beth Johnson Foundation has emphasised, older people can provide younger people with positive role models of both engaged citizenship and active ageing, while young people offer a link to the future for those who are older and who can carry out valuable roles such as mentoring in schools, working in playgroups and so forth. One scheme in Liverpool was set up to improve independence for older people and to break down negative stereotypes surrounding younger generations. Teenagers were recruited from local youth groups to tutor older people on how to use their mobile phones. Not only did this provide training for the older students, it also gave them an added sense of "safety", knowing they could use their phones in an emergency. Their young teachers benefited from developing excellent communication and leadership skills.

At a wider level, if social cohesion is to be taken seriously, we must look again at the way housing is allocated. We must positively foster integration, not separate groups into enclaves based on ethnicity, age or other differentiating factor. Mixed communities are important, and in my view the points system of housing allocation in social housing needs to be looked at again very carefully, as does our planning system, which I hope the DCLG strategy will help to ensure takes place so that together with the new planning legislation, we get a more positive planning role for local authorities and which, in spite of promises of consultation, can be speedier and take into account the genuine needs of the different groups in our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-aged society.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 1:24, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I am speaking towards the end of a long list of distinguished contributors, but I should like also to join the queue to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for setting up a debate on this manifestly significant topic and for her elegant introduction to it, even though I do not agree completely with everything she said. It is quite difficult to speak with wit and verve at the end of such a debate and that reminds me of a story about this place. I do not know whether other noble Lords have heard it. Apparently the Earl of Montrose once declared, "I fell asleep and dreamed I was giving a speech in the House of Lords. Then I woke up and by God I was!". Well, I hope that at least I will be able to stir some attention with what I have to say.

My starting point is that a lot of writing and speaking on the study of the family and marriage is flawed by an historical misunderstanding of past times. The idea that the breakdown of the family is threatening the social cohesion of the wider society is one that every generation entertains. For anyone who doubts that, I suggest they read The Way We Never Were, a book by Stephanie Coontz, which interestingly goes back generation by generation. We learn that each generation thinks that the time before that one was a golden age for the family, but when you go back generation by generation, in every case this is wrong. There never was a golden age of the family and it is therefore a mistake to contrast the issues that we have to deal with today with such a mythical golden age. I would include in this the 1950s as well as previous periods which the author also studies in detail.

The noble Baroness was right to avoid this. We should have no truck with those who say that our aim in family policy should be a return to the traditional family, by which I mean the family up until the threshold of the 1950s. That traditional family might have had virtues—indeed it did—but it also had a serious set of downsides. It was based on the dominance of men over women. Women were the chattels of men in English law until well into the 20th century, the last residue of which, so far as I know, is the law about the impossibility of rape in marriage. I believe that it was repealed as late as the 1960s. The traditional family also did not admit the rights of children. Historians and social scientists have uncovered just how big the dark side of the experience of childhood in the traditional family was, again right into the 20th and to some extent the 21st century. Levels of sexual and physical abuse of children were much higher than anyone conceived possible until intensive research on this topic revealed them a few years ago. Finally, the traditional family set a double standard in which married women were supposed to be pure and other women were regarded as fallen. In the mean time, men could get on with their philandering. So we certainly should not hold up the traditional family as a model for the past. At the minimum, we should be cautious about the idea that the family is breaking down and as a consequence the wider structures of our society are threatened.

Some of the homilies about the breakdown of the family are to be found in the report by Iain Duncan Smith, mentioned by the noble Baroness. He says famously:

"We are living in a broken society", caused for the most part by the undermining of family life. Noble Lords will forgive me if I say that that is pretty much nonsense, and I say that as a social scientist rather than as a Labour Party member. Iain Duncan Smith also states:

"Family breakdown trends are being driven entirely by the increase in unstable cohabiting relationships".

Hence his support for tax breaks to favour marriage as a core part of the policy programme he suggests. But these arguments do not stand up to a moment's examination or scrutiny.

One of the key things to change in the nature of marriage and the family over the past 40 or 50 years is a tremendous increase in the age at which first marriage occurs. About 30 years ago, age at first marriage was 22 for women and 24 for men; now it is about 29 for women and around 30 or over for men. This means that co-habitation now quite normally precedes marriage and it is quite wrong to cast the two as alternatives. Cohabitation is an important learning lead-up often to the taking of marriage vows and many people get married when expecting a child or a child arrives.

The idea that the rise of cohabitation as such signals the breakdown of society is falsified by the experience of the Scandinavian countries, which have easily the highest levels of cohabitation in Europe. Nobody thinks that those societies are on the verge of breakdown. On the contrary, those societies have dealt best with the social changes affecting the family.

So we are not living in a broken society but in one struggling to adapt to large-scale change. Just as in the sphere of work—here I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, who is not in her place—a great deal of the strength of the family today has to come from adaptability to change. We cannot expect the family simply to provide a stability which other institutions have largely forgone. Just as it applies elsewhere, the process of having an adaptable outlook to the world and being able to cope with change and diversity applies in the sphere of the family.

It is not true that the family, on the whole, is experiencing breakdown. There are many aspects of family life which are manifestly superior to what they were 30 or 40 years ago, let alone a long time before that. For example—I shall just quote one statistic—a recent study by sociologists has shown that the average amount of time spent by fathers with their children is much higher today than it was in the 1950s, even including the fact that there is a higher rate of divorce today than in that period. There are many other examples of that.

So, to my mind, it is not right to suggest that tax breaks should be given to strengthen marriage. On the contrary, the best way to strengthen marriage is to strengthen cohabitation because it is so often an avenue into marriage.

In conclusion, I should like to suggest to the Minister that the best family policy has three characteristics and ask him to endorse them. First, we have to concentrate on families of multiple deprivation, which is easily the biggest source of family breakdown; secondly, we have to recognise and endorse the diversity of family life; and, thirdly, we also should expect family life to reflect wider democratic principles, above all the equality of men and women. The equality of men and women should be a structural part of family life for the future and we should find ways of ensuring that family life adapts to that democratic principle.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:33, 28 February 2008

My Lords, it seems to me self-evident that the family unit is the most satisfactory basis for society. It is rather like saying that democracy is the best basis for government; it is not always perfect but it is preferable to anything else.

Nevertheless, however self-evident family values and the advantages of a stable family background may seem, it is good to review the contribution of the family's role in society and in the community in a rapidly changing world. It may be that by doing this we can produce finally a golden age of the family, despite the reservations voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens.

Even in the wider international scene, where we frequently refer to a "family of nations" or the "family of the Commonwealth", it is wholly desirable that the qualities of understanding, tolerance and love that unite a happy family should also be the basis for understanding and goodwill between nations. I therefore add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Gardner on introducing the debate and on the way she has drawn attention to the family and justified the need to strengthen its role.

It has been a wide-ranging debate and I am grateful to those organisations which have sent information and briefing. For example, the young offenders programme led by the National Grid has, I now learn, improved the prospects of more than 1,000 young offenders, turned prisoners into taxpayers and offered career prospects to individuals. This kind of initiative is very important and much to be encouraged.

It has been fascinating to listen to the many contributions made in the course of the debate, whether on the role of fathers within families—on this I endorse entirely the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—or the special needs of multicultural communities, so well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lady Verma. That is one of the advantages of being close to the end of the speakers' list, even though much of what one set out to say originally has already been covered and most eloquently expressed. But, as my noble friend said at the outset, it is easier to enumerate the problems than to resolve them. However, it has become clear that we all hope that some solutions and some practical progress will come out of the debate.

I wish to focus on the role of family carers, who can give an unparalleled quality of care and love to sick, disabled or elderly members of their families, often without any recognition or acknowledgment. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the right reverend Prelate both spoke with expertise about carers in general, as indeed did many others. Like my noble friend Lady Bottomley I also believe that health visitors have an important role. However, in passing, I draw attention to the fact that since 1997 the numbers of health visitors have decreased.

Replacing family carers by social services is a costly exercise. I believe that family carers should be supported and encouraged and that the role and responsibilities of the family should be applauded and not eroded by what I will call the law of unintended consequences. This can often apply as a result of well intentioned rules, regulations and policies, and sometimes can arise out of political correctness.

Rather than generalise about this I should like to cite an example and refer to the vexed question of inheritance tax, especially as it affects siblings who share a household—here I declare an interest as my sister and I are in that situation as joint owners of our home, our motor car and many other things—or a son or daughter who cares for elderly parents in the family home. For such people, the eventual impact of inheritance tax may mean the sale of that joint household or family home at a stage when the remaining individual, who has given unpaid devotion and care, may be growing old too.

The Civil Partnership Act gave the same exemption from inheritance tax to homosexual couples as has always applied between spouses. In the course of the debates on the Bill, my noble friend Lady O'Cathain tabled an amendment to the effect that siblings and family members in the circumstances I have described could register and benefit from the same exemption. The amendment received substantial support throughout your Lordships' House but was not accepted by the Government. I know also that a case involving two elderly sisters in these circumstances was due to be brought before the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but unfortunately I have not been able to discover the final outcome of that case in order to cite it as an indication of the way forward.

It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House whether any further thought has been given to this issue by the Government. I look forward to hearing his reply on this and to the many other questions that have been raised.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education and Children), Children, Schools and Families 1:40, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on giving us the opportunity to debate these important matters. I reflect that, alongside the many fine contributions from the female members of the Conservative Party, it is a pity that she was not able to persuade any of her male colleagues to take part.

It has been a wide-ranging debate. We have heard about the problems of fathers from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne; about family breakdown from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley; about racial issues from my noble friend Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh; about local sports clubs from my noble friend Lord Addington; about the difficulty of delivering family services from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark; about drug addicts from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey; about troubled young people and mentoring from the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley; about intergenerational issues from the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross; about the history of families from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and about family carers from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. It occurs to me that there is a thread running through all the problems that have been outlined: a lack of respect for the integrity of other people and for the integrity of their homes, and indeed a lack of self-respect, which leads to all sorts of anti-social behaviour.

In opening her fine speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, referred to the issue of poverty, particularly child poverty, an issue that concerns me. She talked about energy being more expensive for the poor, yet she questioned whether one-parent families should get slightly more benefit than two-parent ones. I must point out to her, having been a single parent myself, that single parents often have to pay for someone else to do things that their partner might otherwise be able to do, if they had one; things such as childcare while they go to work and small jobs around the house. Not all single parents are irresponsible; many are single through no fault of their own and many do a great job of bringing up their family, but they need more of the sort of help that she outlined in her speech for the sake of their children.

Having said that, I agree with a great deal of what she said. The charitable institutions and our schools have a vital job to do, alongside parents and the rest of the community, in helping our children to have ambition, confidence and self-respect. If they have those, they will work towards their goals for their own benefit and that of all of us. From what she said, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, would agree with that. That, and the fact that this debate is being answered on behalf of the Government by the Minister for Children, Schools and Families, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has led me to approach my contribution to this debate from the point of view of the child. If we can get it right for children we can get it right for the whole community, certainly in the future and to a great extent in the present too. The Government have recently put the welfare of children right at the heart of their thinking. Although some of us will always continue to urge them to go further and faster, we all acknowledge and respect that.

I propose to your Lordships a concept that is currently being developed by UNICEF's UK National Committee, of which I am a trustee, in response to the Government's child welfare agenda: child-friendly communities. You might ask: why single out children? After all, our environment and our community should be friendly to all of us. In answer, I say that it is helpful to have a focus when planning what sort of community we want to live in. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, had to say about children. As I recall it, she said that if children play together, eat together, live together and even fight together, they will understand each other and be able to live together well. A community that is child-friendly will also be supportive of, and helpful to, other vulnerable people, including elderly people. If it is a good place for small and vulnerable people to live in, it is going to be the sort of place where all of us would want to live and gain a good quality of life. I make no apology for singling out children, because in doing so we will be benefiting everyone.

What do we mean by a "child-friendly community"? It is a way of integrating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into national and local government processes. It is equally applicable to governance of all communities that include children, large and small, urban and rural, and is intended to provide a foundation for adaptation to suit all localities.

The child-friendly communities initiative emerged in response to the rapid transformation and urbanisation of global societies and, consequently, the increasing importance of cities and towns within national, political and economic systems. The initiative promotes the implementation of the convention at the level where it has the greatest direct impact on children's lives: right in the place where they live. It is a strategy for promoting the highest quality of life—indeed, for all citizens of all ages.

What would a child-friendly community provide? It would guarantee the right of every young citizen to the following nine things. First, they would have a voice. Children in such a community would be able to express their opinion on the community if they wanted and have their views listened to. We all know how we can get better decision-making if we listen to those who receive the service. Secondly, they would have a right to participate in family, community and social life. Communities that welcome families and make them safe and happy places to bring up children will, of their nature, be low-crime communities.

Thirdly, they would receive basic services such as healthcare. Services would be easy for families with children to access, with no discrimination as to race, income or other factors. Fourthly, they would have the right to education and shelter. Those are things we take as read in our UK communities, unlike in the rest of the world, but there are still problems here of poor schools and homeless families being accommodated in places that are quite unsuitable for bringing up a happy, well adjusted child. The noble Lord, Lord Best, might agree particularly with that one.

Fifthly, they would have the right to drink safe water and have access to proper sanitation. On the whole that is an aspiration for less developed countries than ours, but with overseas aid we can help them to reach the standard we are lucky enough to have here. Sixthly, they would have the right to be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse and to walk safely in the streets on their own. We still have a long way to go on that one. Sadly, almost every week there are still terrible stories of children who have been abused and even killed. We have to tackle the very foundation of these problems and bring a full stop to this abusive cycle by giving more support to families in difficulty and giving the best possible treatment science and psychology can devise to the perpetrators so that they never offend again. That is one of the most difficult challenges we face.

Seventhly, they would have the right to meet friends and play. I was delighted recently to hear about how the 2012 Olympics are involving children, but it sad to me when I see a new estate being built with nowhere for children to play. Children need green spaces and playgrounds where they can meet other children and get on with them, and teenagers need meeting places and leisure facilities. I know these things cost money, but they save money in the long run when we consider the cost of the youth crime, drug treatment, alcohol abuse and so on that result from children not being brought up with lots of good activities to keep them busy and use up their energy.

Eighthly, they need to live in an unpolluted environment. There are lots of challenges here in making our cities green, but I do not have time to go into all that now. Finally, children should be able to participate in cultural and social events. They should be equal citizens of their community, having access to every service, whatever their ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or disability. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, I am lucky enough to live in a village—Gresford—that has wonderful community facilities for young and old people. Would that everyone had that.

If all this sounds like an unattainable ideal, I remind noble Lords that a couple of centuries ago it seemed like an unattainable idea that we would all live in cities with clean water, good sanitation and universal education up to at least 16—but today we do. However, it would need a special group of people to focus and plan for such a community. That plan would need to be focused on outcomes and to take account of the views of children and their parents. Those all sound like good ideas to me. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Shadow Minister (Community Cohesion), Communities and Local Government 1:50, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I am privileged to sum up from the Front Bench for the first time in a debate on a topic of great importance, in which the contributions from all sides of the House have been wise and thoughtful. The debate reminds me that this House is so important because its talents are immense. I am thankful particularly to my noble friend Lady Gardner for securing it.

Apparent in it has been the fact that families, community cohesion and social action are interlinked. Debate now should focus on how we create communities at ease with each other, where, whatever one's background, race, age, faith or sexual orientation, we live lives that drive towards a common purpose: strength in unity.

In addressing the challenges facing modern Britain, we must be guided by core values: our commitment to equality under the rule of law, our recognition that as a nation we are all in it together, our attachment to civil liberties, and our determination to tackle racial discrimination and ensure equality of opportunity at all levels, in a belief that our nation is made stronger by the contribution of our different communities.

The report of the Conservative Party social justice policy group—its two volumes are entitled Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain—provides a long and detailed analysis—I wholeheartedly disagree the description of it by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. It describes and explores how poverty and deprivation have created a vicious cycle of unemployment, addiction, crime and further poverty, diminishing families and neighbourhoods. It refers to the cluster of mutually reinforcing sources of deprivation: worklessness and state dependency, family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, low educational attainment and debt. For those caught in such traps, one problem interacts with another eventually to produce a malign spiral of social dysfunction. Lack of qualifications makes it harder to get a job, giving the downward spiral another twist by increasing poverty and opening the door to crime. Partly as a result, young people find it harder to create lasting relationships; teenage pregnancy increases; and children are born into conditions in which the cycle is prone to continue. In short, traps of multiple deprivation are a reality in Britain today.

This side of the House believes that solutions to neighbourhood breakdown have to be local, because the problems are local; they are also complex and delicate, and require a practical and flexible response. I was particularly impressed by the clearly defined and practical solutions explored by noble friend Lady Bottomley. Ultimately, the solutions need to be bottom up, grassroots driven, and not dictated by bureaucrats sitting in Whitehall. As my noble friend Lady Platt firmly put it, leave it local.

One of the best ways to revolutionise the hopes and opportunities of individuals in the most troubled neighbourhoods, and hence those of future generations, is to help the 55,000 social enterprises that already exist. We should listen to their views and not impose ours on them, thereby taking away that very passion that made them successful. Community groups, too, play an important role in providing solutions to local problems. They are steeped in local knowledge, deeply motivated, flexible and imaginative; and we need to tear down the barriers that centralist government have put in their way, such as the short-term and complex approach to funding to which the right reverend Prelate referred. Only then will we allow them to realise their full potential.

The term "multiculturalism" is again at the centre of a debate in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, who has said that multiculturalism is of another era and should be scrapped. My understanding of multiculturalism is that communities from different backgrounds, cultures and customs can live alongside each other, celebrating their differences but uniting in purpose.

Unfortunately, during the past decade or so, a form of state-driven multiculturalism, however well intended, has helped preserve cultures and languages while failing to unite Britons. It has resulted in people being kept apart, giving them less incentive to learn English, and has been one of the factors responsible for contributing to cultural group solidarity at the expense of broader social participation. The treating of communities as monolithic blocks rather than as equal members of society has been divisive and patronising. I endorse the views of my noble friend Lady Verma, who spoke of self-appointed community leaders who singularly and incorrectly purport to represent large, diverse ethnic communities. I bring it to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that this divisive form of state-driven multiculturalism focuses on things that divide rather than unite us. My right honourable friend David Cameron was right to criticise it.

Although the ease of local communities will ultimately be delivered by local solutions, we must recognise that there are areas where government policies can and do make a difference. Families, however defined, are acknowledged across this House as one of the bedrocks of society, yet where do we find this Government's record? Couples face financial penalties. A study by Frank Field MP for the think tank, Reform, found that in families with exactly the same number of children, two-parent households need far greater earnings than a lone parent to move past the poverty line. That was referred to by my noble friend Lady Gardner.

The benefits system pays for couples to split up. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted the example of a couple with children, where the husband earns £15,000 a year while his wife has a part-time job paying £5,000 a year. As a couple, they can claim benefits and tax credits worth £2,317, but if they split up, the wife on her own with the children would receive £7,785 from the state, making them better off by more than £5,000. That again is something that the Government can address. I am pleased that proposals from my party are to give clear and unambiguous backing to families that come together and stay together.

The tax credits system, which is another Government responsibility, is in chaos. Fraud, error and overpayments have led to £5 billion being wasted. In the last year for which we have data, more than half of all tax credit payments were incorrect. Almost 2 million people a year receive the wrong tax credit payment and face having money clawed back, putting them in extremely difficult circumstances. This again is something that the Government can and need to address now.

Let us consider the Government's record on children in care, 20 per cent of whom will still be unemployed in the September after they leave school. Nearly 50 per cent of them will leave school without a single GCSE. They are children for whom local and central government have direct responsibility of care. We cannot shirk it or blame other agencies or families for it.

I turn to an area covered by my own brief: community cohesion. In October 2007, Hazel Blears announced £50 million of investment over three years to promote community cohesion and support local authorities in preventing and managing community tensions. In December 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government set out proposals for distributing £38.5 million of it, but, only recently, the Government announced that the framework to advise how to deliver this money will not be ready until the summer of this year. Surely this approach is back to front. Surely one needs to work out what needs to be done and then budget for it, not set a budget and then decide how to spend it. I hope that the Minister will enlighten your Lordships' House about this confusion.

In the Government's response to the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, the Department for Communities and Local Government said that it would be,

"piloting specialist cohesion teamsto support local authorities facing cohesion challenges".

However, I must warn the House that this headline-grabbing announcement is not all it seems. The nucleus of these teams will be neighbourhood renewal advisers, who are already in place.

There is hope. The Department for Communities and Local Government recently acknowledged in its response to the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion that this Government's approach had failed over the past 10 years. It stated:

"We agree that given local complexity, a one size fits all strategy is no longer appropriate, and our guidance in the past may have wrongly taken this approach".

I hope that the Minister will confirm that that signals a new direction from the Government and some hope for how we deal with community cohesion, social action and families.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 1:59, 28 February 2008

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for this opportunity to debate a wide range of important issues relating to families and community cohesion. We have had an excellent debate. I am particularly glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who occupies a prominent position in the Conservative Party on these issues, and we welcome her to our debates.

We have heard a lot about negative aspects of modern society in this debate, about problems caused by drink, drugs and anti-social behaviour, about families causing misery within their neighbourhoods, about instances of youths perpetrating violent crimes, about entrenched social disadvantage, and about poverty of aspiration. These are issues of the utmost gravity, which I shall say more about in a moment. However—and here I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—most of us would wish the message to go from this House that these problems, serious as they are, are not the dominant characteristics of our communities or families.

I do not believe that we are living in a fundamentally broken society. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lord Giddens that Britain is a place where the great majority of families provide a loving and supportive environment for children to grow up in; where in so many aspects of life the present is better than the past; where most parents want their children to get on and succeed in school and at work; and where most communities are safe, friendly and vibrant places to live. Also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, most of our immigrant families believe that they belong and are proud to be British. I myself come from an immigrant family and I would certainly say that of my family and community, whatever the continuing challenges that we face in diversity and immigration.

In the 2007 Tellus2 survey, which collected the views of more than 110,000 children, 93 per cent of those children said that they were happy about life, with a similar number having a positive view of their parents and families. Last year's British Crime Survey showed a 41 per cent fall in the incidence of violent crime since its peak in 1995 and the performance of schools is sharply improving, with nearly 100,000 more 11 year-olds up to standard in literacy and numeracy compared with a decade ago and the number of failing schools halved. That does not lessen the impact of the very serious problems that do exist; it is our duty to tackle those issues, and concerted action is required across government in each area named in the Motion.

We are improving support for parents to bring up their children happy and healthy, with clear values, a sense of social responsibility and high aspirations for their lives. We seek to create more good schools and promote citizenship and community cohesion in our schools and communities, combining targeted support and robust action when appropriate to counter challenges such as drug and alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour and gun and knife crime.

Before turning to the specific issues, I shall make a broader point about how the Government provide services. First, many issues raised today relate to individuals and families who have complex needs that can only effectively be addressed by support from a range of public services and joint working between agencies at national and local level. Secondly, they vary widely from community to community. We can and must establish a policy framework at national level but, in the end, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, so rightly said, these are often inherently local problems, requiring locally designed and driven solutions with local government and the local leadership of public services and voluntary agencies playing a pivotal role.

To take up the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, I stress the role of voluntary agencies. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is people not governments who bring about change; community groups, including the churches and other faith groups, have a vital role to play in terms of local leadership and local service provision. It is to this end that we have promoted the role of local authorities as strategic planners and commissioners and not only as direct providers of community services. We expect them to be open to the full contribution that can be made from the whole range of voluntary local partners in their areas, including the faith groups described by the right reverend Prelate.

Among the most important of the local services are the local health services, including the vital role of health visitors, as rightly emphasised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Hooper. These services are developing further, for all the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, gave about the vital contribution that health visitors can make, particularly in respect of vulnerable families, with whom they have an almost unique relationship to bring about improvements for the better in how those families operate and in particular in the support available to mothers. I highlight, for example, the family nurse partnership, which tests a model of intensive nurse-led home visiting for vulnerable first-time young parents in 10 areas of England, not only for the early weeks after childbirth, as is traditional in the case of health visitors, but right up to when the child is two years old. A sum of £30 million has been allocated to expand the family nurse partnership scheme in the next three years; this is targeted at the most vulnerable first-time young mothers and their first child, who can benefit from intensive preventive early intervention to improve their life chances. The programme is taken up by 90 per cent of the hard-to-reach families to which it is offered and has been welcomed by the health visitors and midwives in local areas, who see positive changes taking place in behaviour, relationships and well-being. That kind of initiative is exactly the kind of area in which the state in its local capacity can work more effectively with families to ensure that children have a much better start in life and that issues to do with family breakdown are avoided.

A key reform in this area is also the development in each local authority of children's trusts, which have been possible since the Children Act 2004, as my noble friend Lady Massey said. Children's trusts co-ordinate the agencies that plan, commission and deliver services for children, including primary care trusts and third sector organisations, to promote better integrated services focused around the individual child and his or her needs. In many parts of the country, these changes have brought about substantial improvements. My noble friend asked for examples. I have been told recently of the success of the Bedfordshire children's trust in developing a commissioning strategy to focus resources on earlier assessment, intervention and family support leading to radically improved results for children. The number of children in care in Bedfordshire has come down from 441 to 308; attainment in schools and children's centres has improved and school exclusions have reduced by 25 per cent. Other children's trusts have similarly positive stories to tell, but I fully accept that some areas are making less progress—and I particularly noted the examples of less effective practice given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, which I would also wish to draw to the attention of the local authorities that he mentioned.

I note, too, that from June this year new local area agreements will streamline the way in which central and local government interact so that priorities are no longer imposed from the centre but are negotiated locally. An important priority for us in these local area agreements is the promotion of community cohesion. This is not according to any national template; the new national indicator set underpinning new local area agreements includes two cohesion measures—first, the percentage of people who think that their local area is one in which people from different backgrounds get on well with one another and, secondly, the percentage of people who feel that they belong to their local areas. Cohesion measures are therefore being very much generated by best local practice, not by national templates. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked what progress we were making in establishing those indicators at local level. I am glad to be able to tell him that measures along these lines have already been agreed in 79 local authority areas and others are under negotiation.

On family policy, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, said so powerfully at the outset, effective parenting plays a central role in personal development, social health and community cohesion, outstripping class, ethnicity and even disability in its influence on the path that children take as they grow up. Families are the building blocks of communities so parents are the key partners in improving respect, tolerance and cohesion in society as a whole. Assisting parents in fulfilling their responsibilities towards their children is perhaps the most important thing that we do as a society and a Government, and we have sought to improve support in fundamental ways in recent years. For example, we have increased maternity leave from just 14 weeks to up to a year. We have doubled statutory maternity pay to £112.75 a week. We have introduced two weeks' paternity leave paid at the same rate and we are consulting on extending this further in order to promote the very role of fathers that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, so rightly again emphasised in this debate. We have given parents with children under six or disabled children under 18 the right to request flexible working and to have their request taken seriously, which is bringing about substantial changes for the better in the workplace.

Fourteen million people now work flexibly. We are currently reviewing how much further we should extend this right to request flexible working. We have invested more than £21 billion in early years provision and childcare since 1997, creating an under-fives sector which barely existed before then, so that today every three and four year-old has a right to free nursery education. We are also boosting support for family support services; £240 million will be available in the next three years for local authorities to develop better family support services and to support services for grandparents—a matter mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.

My noble friend Lady Massey asked about the financial support the Government are giving to children and families. From April 2009, when the latest changes come into effect, the average household with children will be £1,800 better off in real terms as a result of the Government's reforms to the tax and benefit system than they were in 1997.

We seek to bring about radical improvements in support for children in care through the Children and Young Persons Bill, currently before the House, which meets many of the points raised by the noble Baroness opposite. In respect of disabled children—I speak as Minister for disabled children—I am about to table amendments to the Children and Young Persons Bill enabling the Government to set national standards of respite care to be available to the parents of disabled children, so that the extra £430 million we are investing over the next three years, in short breaks and other respite care services for the families of disabled children, leads to a fundamental and lasting improvement in support for many of the most vulnerable families in our country.

So I believe that we have a good record. But it is not enough. We want to accelerate the pace of improvements, so we have, for example, used the recent changes to the machinery of government to create a new department—the Department for Children, Schools and Families—with a specific focus on families. Now, for the first time, one department has lead responsibility for putting the needs of families at the heart of government policy.

In December my new department published the Children's Plan to set out our strategy for improving the lives of children and families over the next decade, including the vital role of play and better play facilities—a matter mentioned by many noble Lords. The plan sets out two key principles to guide how we work with parents. The first principle is about the need to recognise and adapt to changes in families and family life. As my noble friends Lady Pitkeathley and Lord Giddens so rightly said, families today are not universally made in the image of the 1950s, which was not a golden age for the family or, indeed, in any other respect. Fewer people today are marrying. More are living together outside marriage, and doing so for longer. Since the 1970s the number of single-parent families has trebled while the number of babies born outside marriage has increased fivefold.

While we believe that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships and that both mothers and fathers have important roles to play, it is the quality of parenting and the love and support of parents and carers which matter above all, and we should always put the interests of the child first. It is essential to offer services which help all families, whatever their structure, to sustain such relationships.

Changes in employment patterns add further complexity to modern family life. As the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, said, many more women, and significantly more men, are now juggling family life with paid work. More and more parents are caring for elderly relatives as well as bringing up children. We know that parents want to be able to spend more time with their children. The Government seek to help in this area by continuing to ensure, for example, that childcare is readily and economically available, and that employers give parents the time they need for their children.

The second principle underpinning my department's action is that the Government should offer support but intervene only in the most extreme cases. Bringing up children is the job of parents not of Government, except in cases of breakdown. But we can do a great deal more than in the past to support parents in that task. I referred earlier to the development of children's centres. This has been a path-breaking development in sustaining the work of families caring for children in their early years.

We have also invested in the Parent Know How service, which draws together existing and new information and advice for parents and makes it available through telephone helplines, the internet, and innovative channels such as text messaging. It is also why, from 1 April this year, local authorities will have to provide parents and carers with information about childcare and other services through their family information service. It is also why we are expanding the availability of parent support advisers. These currently work with parents in about 1,200 schools to improve behaviour and attendance, and to offer support directly to families at the first sign of social, health or behavioural issues. Over the next three years we will extend further funding so that parent support advisers are available in an average of 10 to 15 schools in every local authority, thus extending the current model significantly more widely.

I turn next to schools. They are perhaps the only institution guaranteed to play a major role in the life of almost all children and families, and, of course, the school is at the heart of every community. In terms of schools' policy, first, and most obviously, we are seeking to drive up the attainment of pupils—particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds who have traditionally done less well in school—eradicate low-attaining schools and improve the quality of teaching and learning in all schools. We have made good progress in that regard. The number of failing schools has more than halved over the past 10 years. But there is much more to do. We need all our children in school to get up to basic standard in literacy and numeracy. That is a key Government priority, supported by the literacy and numeracy strategies, the literacy and numeracy hours in every primary school in the country, and, for example, the new emphasis on the use of synthetic phonics in teaching all children to read following the Rose review.

We also need much better and more fit-for-purpose employment-related skills taught in schools, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who emphasised the appropriate education for those not on a traditional academic route through school. Hence the expansion of diplomas and their introduction into new vocational education areas; the expansion of apprenticeships, which we want to restore to their place as playing a central part in the opportunities available to young people; and the importance of sport, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in his remarks. Since 2002 there has been a threefold increase in the proportion of five to 16-year olds participating in at least two hours of sports each week. In the last survey this figure had gone up from 25 per cent to 86 per cent, thanks to the introduction of sports partnerships with trained professionals leading those partnerships in every local area, and to a big improvement in the quality of sports facilities now available in state schools across the country. Hence also the changes we are making to produce a more modern and relevant curriculum, including the introduction of cooking as a standard part, which has also been mentioned in the debate.

It is also important that schools teach children about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and community members. In 2002, we made citizenship education a compulsory part of the school curriculum, focusing on the rights and responsibilities that apply to citizens as well as the proper respect due to those of different cultural background, as discussed by my noble friend Lord Parekh in his typically thoughtful speech.

From this September we will be introducing a revised citizenship curriculum after the review carried out last year by Sir Keith Ajegbo. There will be a new strand focusing specifically on community cohesion, and the promotion of community cohesion is now a statutory duty on all schools, including all faith schools, nationwide.

We are also expanding Sure Start and Extended Schools, which extend the range and community mission of schools in each area. All these measures, put together in the context of a doubling, in real terms, of education spending over the past 10 years, will address many of the issues which have been raised during the debate, and strengthen families and community cohesion.

Perhaps I may deal quickly with a number of specific issues raised in other parts of the debate. On drug abuse, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary yesterday published the Government's updated drugs strategy, setting out how we will build on the progress made over the past 10 years, during which time we have seen an overall drug use decline, with more than 1,000 crack houses closed down, and the number of users in treatment doubled. The new focus set out in the strategy relates precisely to communities and families. For example, while continuing to take robust action against drug dealers and drug crime, we will seek to engage more closely at the community level with those who are identified as posing the greatest harm in their neighbourhoods.

In terms of gun, knife and gang crime, on 18 February the Government published their violent crime action plan, setting out plans for tough intervention and preventive measures over the next three years.

The successful work of the respect task force on anti-social behaviour is being continued and broadened by the new youth task force. We will continue to use community-based approaches involving a range of intervention options, including ASBOs and acceptable behaviour contracts. The noble Baroness was disparaging about ASBOs but the National Audit Office report in December 2006 found that after one such intervention 65 per cent of people stopped behaving anti-socially and after three interventions 93 per cent of people did so, so the evidence we have is positive.

In conclusion, we face manifold challenges and the Government are not complacent about them. However, families and young people are mostly succeeding. Most communities in this country are safe and positive. Continued partnership between government and the wide diversity of civil society is generally a force for progress to tackle the problems that we face. We all have a part to play in forging further progress. Today's excellent debate has focused attention on how we can do so and I end by once again thanking the noble Baroness for making it possible.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 2:20, 28 February 2008

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this wide-ranging debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, summed up what each speaker said so I do not need to repeat it but the debate's wide coverage was impressive. I was particularly pleased that health visitors were covered because I did not have time to do so. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned sports facilities—I agree with every word that he said—and the noble Lord, Lord Best, spoke about housing.

However, the real challenge came in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, which delighted me as I come from a big family where we always argued about things. I accept that he personally—it is a policy decision—is opposed to tax breaks to strengthen marriage; however, my point was not about strengthening marriage through tax breaks but avoiding the present perverse incentive which does anything but strengthen marriage. I support the comment made by my noble friend Lady Hooper about inheritance tax. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, made a superb case for carers, as she always does, and explained how many people are willing to volunteer to do that. However, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said, if those people eventually lose their home because they have devoted their life to caring for someone, that is a great disincentive. The Government said that they would reconsider the amendment on that matter tabled by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain although they considered that it was not appropriate for the Bill in question. I hope that they will.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that the present is better than the past. I agree, but that does not mean that we do not want it to be better still. We should all reflect on the contributions made to the debate and aim to make life better still. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.