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Children In Care

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children in care are members of one-parent families; and what proportion of all children in care they represent.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply but I am sorry that the information is not available. I find it a matter of concern that such information is not available, and I must ask her whether she agrees. Does she agree with me that the impression among those who work in the social services is that although one-parent families form only one-tenth of the community the proportion of children in care who are members of one-parent families is considerably higher than that? If my right hon. Friend agrees about that, will she accept that many of those children are in care unnecessarily and simply because our society does not provide the services and the money for their families to sustain them in the community? Will she give some hope to one-parent families, whether or not their children are in care, of greater help in the future, apart from the family endowment scheme? Although I welcome that scheme, it will not solve the problems of one-parent families.

In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, information about children in care was collected by our predecessors and published in March 1973 in Command 5815. It was considered more important to place emphasis on identification of the circumstances in which children were placed in care than on the nature of the families from which they came. That is the information which is given in the White Paper and which is crucial for social policy. It is important to emphasise that.

With regard to my hon. Friend's other point, I should be glad to send her a copy of the speech I made on Friday to the Conference on One-Parent Families which sets out in considerable detail not only what steps we have already taken to fulfil the recommendations of the Finer Report but the other considerations we have in mind.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Opposition would very much support a full debate on the whole question of one-parent families and the Finer Report? Is she aware that the matter of children in care is only one part of the problem we are facing, that there are over 1 million children whose future is affected and that it would be quite wrong if the House could not give a full day's debate to this very important question?

The hon. Gentleman has the remedy in his own hands. We should be delighted if the Opposition were to devote one of their Supply Days to this subject.

The right hon. Lady has not been fair to the House—and I am sure she is not fair to herself—to suggest that the Government do not have time to debate the whole question of the Finer Report and then to ask my hon. Friend for a Supply Day to be used. Will the right hon. Lady say this afternoon when she will give time to help the one-parent families?

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that matters of the allocation of time for debate are not for me; they are for the Leader of the House. As far as I am concerned, however, I should welcome an opportunity of telling the House at length the steps we have already taken to fulfil the 230-odd recommendations of the Finer Report. I should also point out that my Department has a massive programme of legislation on social advance and social reform and that we need a great deal of parliamentary time to get it on to the statute book.