My Lords, I welcome our new Minister and sympathise with him for being put in the hot seat before he has had time to warm his trousers. I also thank my noble friend Lord Farmer and those who worked with him for a sterling piece of work.
This is a hugely important debate. We have not altogether taken on board how countercultural it is. Societies are not static; they change. We are mostly in the top half age-wise yet we are talking about the problems of the bottom half as though we were actually part of them and understood them fully. We have to try to point out to them where they are going.
We all seem to agree that families are the bedrock of society, and that the strength of the nation depends on the strength of the family. We mostly realise, I think, that the bedrock is eroding, and the erosion seems to coincide with the way that our society has turned away from faith and, with it, from the standards of faith.
Marriage was a badge of respectability, and it was almost revered by those who did not have it. In my parents’ day, it was thoroughly approved of and enjoyed—as it was in my own day. But it is becoming unfashionable. Fewer people are getting married. Fewer people are committing themselves and their life to the future and the happiness of others by getting married, whether in a registry office or a church. I see the smiles passing between Members on the opposite Front Benches, but there is a scent in the wind. You know you can smell rain before it gets here—well, I can sense a further decline in standards because they are not being taught.
I am with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who is a personal magic bullet in himself, on the primacy of prevention. That is what we are trying to do tonight. It is what we ought to do on the big scale in intervening in families, and in helping those that have come apart to protect the children and teach the separated parents that they can have a good relationship and make life comfortable and happy for the children.
We must recover faith. I argue passionately for the Christian faith because I am a Christian and I believe that Christ is my saviour. Faith itself is something that gives stability to character, and it is stable characters we need for stable families. In three minutes, I can only begin. I wish I could go on for three hours, but thank you very much for listening this long.