Strengthening Families — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:25 pm on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 3:25 pm, 8th February 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck, and it was a pleasure to have Mr Bone as our Chair prior to your arrival.

When we go to someone’s funeral, it is rare that people talk about that person’s educational or career successes. They certainly, as my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh said, do not talk about the money that person made during their lifetime. Almost always, the eulogy centres on the family. People want to be remembered for the family—for their contribution to family life and the stable family life that they built. Families are at the centre of all our individual lives. They provide us with a sense of stability, security and purpose, sustaining us through times of emotional, health and financial difficulty, and providing us with a sense of place and fulfilment. We all experience families in different ways throughout our lives, as children to our parents, as parents or indeed grandparents as we grow older, as partners or through our extended relationships. To answer a point made by my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne, of course we all know that modern families are not all two parents with two children. It has been established during the debate that it is not helpful to stigmatise people who do not conform to that measure, and I do not think anyone suggests we should do so.

As a dad with two young children, I know the importance of strong families and the role that families play in children’s development—not only physical development but cognitive, emotional and social development. I completely agree with the attitude of my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy towards television and social media for children. The decline in the practice of children sitting at the table to eat with the family has profound consequences. When children eat with the family they learn many soft skills such as conversational ability and table manners that put them at an advantage and help them succeed throughout life. I certainly agree about playing games: my family like Articulate! My six-year-old already beats me at Cluedo so I am giving up on that one. I shall resist the temptation to speculate on games that members of the Cabinet might choose to play.

For all the reasons I have given, it is, for me and certainly for my party and the Government, families and not the state that form the cornerstone of our society. That is why families are at the heart of Government policy and why I am so pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. It is an important issue, and, as my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce said, it is also a cross-cutting issue where responsibilities lie with a number of different Departments. As a Minister in the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility for co-ordinating cross-Government work and policy, I am responding to this wide-ranging debate on behalf of the Government. Within the Cabinet Office, we are continually looking at ways to measure the impact of policies in relation to the family. We currently analyse that impact through mechanisms such as the implementation unit, which falls within my brief. That is a central part of the initiative.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. I know what a strong campaigner she is on the importance of families, and how much of her parliamentary career she has devoted to championing the cause. That was demonstrated once again by her passionate speech today. I also pay tribute to all hon. Members who were involved in drawing up the “Manifesto to Strengthen Families”. I know that she chaired a roundtable on Tuesday with our hon. Friend Andrew Selous and David Burrowes. I join my hon. Friends in paying tribute to Mr Burrowes. He was a neighbour when he served as Member of Parliament for Enfield, Southgate and he is completely and passionately committed to this cause.

I am very familiar with this cause from my time working for the former Prime Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned “Breakthrough Britain”. I well remember that report and its impact and the significant contributions, not just from David Burrowes, but people such as Dr Samantha Callan, who are very committed to this project. For me, the statistic that brought it home during the debate is that children are more likely to have a smartphone than a father at home. What does that say about our values as a society if that is the case?