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Welfare Of Children

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

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7.16 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the damage to children resulting from eleven years of Conservative governments, whose pursuit of socially divisive policies has seriously undermined the domestic security and future prospects of millions of children; calls on the Government fully to acknowledge its responsibilities towards all children through a fundamental re-assessment of service provision to children by recognising the need for substantially increased levels of co-ordination at both national and local government level; further requires the Government to facilitate the national collation and interpretation of information about children through the establishment of information-gathering mechanisms and continued support for existing systems; and urges the Government to bring before this House a timetable for ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as a sign of its commitment to improving the welfare of children, both within the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

In setting what I hope will be the scene of this debate on children, I should like the House to cast its mind back to 1975 when the Prime Minister said in a speech in New York:

"Let our children grow tall, and some grow taller than others if they have it in them to do so. Opportunity means nothing, unless it includes the right to be unequal."
We little thought then that this "right" to inequality would be enshrined in law as a result of policy decisions taken by successive Conservative Governments in the past decade.

We have recently been subjected to many fine words, albeit dangerously oversimplifying the issues affecting children. I urge the House not to pay too much attention to what the Government say, but to look at what they have done, because there is a substantial, if predictable, gap between the myth of a caring Government and the reality experienced by many of our children.

The Tory party is fond of claiming to be the party of the family, yet it is the same party which, during a decade of government, has taken policy decisions after policy decisions which have divided families and not supported them. I shall give a few brief examples, starting with unemployment. The Conservative Government deliberately engineered appallingly high unemployment, thus throwing millions into dependency on state benefits. A generation of Thatcher's children have gone from childhood to adulthood without experience of their parents being in work and without any job prospects of their own.

Do hon. Members remember the saying, "On your bike"? What was that advice meant to achieve? It meant a parent, more often than not a father, being absent from home for long periods actively seeking work in other parts of the United Kingdom—a stranger to his children and subjecting his marriage to intolerable strains.

When do the Government intend to sort out the tangible contradictions in their approach to families and members of those families? There is an increasing tendency in Government circles to browbeat some members of the family to stay put at all costs. For example, 16 to 18-year-olds are supposed to stay with their families or face unacceptable levels of financial hardship, making it virtually impossible for them to lead an independent life at a decent level. If their parents are unemployed, they can no longer, thanks to Government action, claim these young people as dependants. If such young people are not on a youth training scheme, they will not get any benefit.

Younger children running away from home are dubbed dreamers who are chasing the bright city lights, but many of them are running away from shocking domestic pressure, overcrowding, violence, sexual abuse and other problems. Many of these children are throwaways, not runaways. Only recently the Prime Minister expressed horror at the idea that we might be in danger of rearing a generation of creche children. She told us that women with young children should stay at home and raise their family. It would be nice if most women had that choice. The Prime Minister had that choice and she took it.

However, child benefit has been frozen since 1987, and there were hints in the press over the weekend that it is likely to remain at that level. In many areas, including Conservative-controlled authorities, mothers are finding that child benefit, their only directly paid benefit, barely pays their monthly poll tax bill.

Ministers other than the Prime Minister have expended much energy and effort trying to persuade women to return to work to meet the needs of industry. The Government should get together to decide what they want. If women are to be encouraged to return to work, I shall support that, as someone who was a working mother when the children were young.

It is wrong for us to rely on workplace nurseries for child care. Child care needs to be child centred, and it should take into account the needs of children. If we rely on child care for working mothers, what will happen when the country decides that it no longer needs those mothers in the work force, as it has done in the past? If that happens, child care will disappear, as it did at the end of the second world war. Children are caught in the middle of Government confusion. Have they benefited from the decade of supposedly unprecedented prosperity or has the economic miracle passed them by?

The Prime Minister has said that the Victorian era had much to commend it. We can see what it was like, for some of it has returned with a vengeance. For a minority of our children there are slum dwellings, child working and an increase in social inequalities. The Children's Society says that 98,000 children cease to sleep at home on any one night. Of course, many of these children turn up unharmed, but many do not. Government information—what happened to the children who ran away from home and why they did so—is scant. That is not my view alone. Since taking on the portfolio of Labour's spokesperson for children—it is not a soft option as one or two members of the press have suggested—I have had intensive consultations with voluntary organisations, professional bodies and individuals who are actively involved in caring for children. The same picture emerges. There is a clear and increasing tendency for the Government to rely on the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces, the damaged children for whom they and society—I know that "society" is not the Prime Minister's favourite word—are responsible. Any Government who are serious about taking on that responsibility must begin with a thorough understanding of the problem, and that means national information gathering.

The House may find it significant that many of the statistics that I shall use have come from non-Government sources. I pay tribute to the Children's Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Save the Children Fund, the National Children's Home, the National Children's Bureau, Barnardos, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Health Visitors Association and many other organisations for filling the vital information gap.

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not intend to give way for long. We rarely debate these issues and I do not have much time.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She has mentioned some eminent and worthy charities, all of which do an excellent job. That job, even by their own admission, has been helped by the Government's generous tax arrangements for charitable giving. It is the charities which deal with the problem and which know best how to deal with it, and we fully support them.

When I have asked Ministers for information and statistics on missing children, children who are sleeping out and truancy, I have been told that the Government do not collect such statistics or I have been referred to one of the agencies. Surely hon. Members have the right to receive Government information about what is going on.

I shall draw attention to a striking exception to the rule which I have just enunciated. There is a piece of Government-funded research that is proving indispensable for those who are genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of the younger generation. I refer to the long-term study of the health of primary schoolchildren, which was set up after the Prime Minister, in a previous guise, abolished free school milk. The nationwide study of 10,000 children is being carried out by St. Thomas's hospital within the medical sector. It has produced valuable information on children's height, weight and general health. I am advised that, although it is regarded worldwide as a model of its kind, there is the threat of withdrawal of funding next April, despite the fact that the study is revealing what has happened to underprivileged groups in society. It seems that the trend in the 1970s towards more equal birth rates across the social spectrum is now, after 10 years of Conservative government, in reverse. Surely that could not be a cause for the Department of Health to get cold feet. I ask for an assurance from the Minister for Health that the rumour to which I have referred has no foundation and that the research will continue.

I have no doubt that the Minister will wish to assure the House also that the Government are doing all that they can to achieve higher welfare standards for our children. I am sure that the hon. Lady will say that the Government have spent X million pounds on this and a further Y million pounds on that, but their policy is obviously not working.

The Child Poverty Action Group demonstrated recently that millions of people, including children, are still getting a poor deal from the rich society and that the famous trickle-down theory of economic growth working over the long term is irrelevant to the needs of children now. Our children cannot wait.

When we get a significant and potentially powerful tool of legislation that can be used to help children who are in need, such as the Children Act 1989—I am pleased that the Government refer to the Act in their amendment—there are difficulties when it comes to implementation. It was said that the Act would lead to an improvement in court hearings, but we did not get family courts, although we fought hard to secure them. The need for such courts was agreed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Act is in danger of being sabotaged by the Government's refusal to provide adequate extra resources to help local authorities to implement it. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, local government will have to find as much as £150 million a year to implement the Act. What is the use of raising hopes and expectations as a result of our knowledge of the needs of children—that knowledge forced the Government to introduce the Act—if we are not to give local authorities the money to implement it? In these days of poll tax and capped councils, where is local government to find the necessary finance to put much-needed legislation into practice? The local authority within my constituency tells me that it will cost it £450,000 a year to implement the Act. Will the authority be capped if it increases the poll tax to pay for implementation? That is what the Government are saying. High spending are dirty words only if the money is squandered. If money is well spent on services that are needed, and the Children Act has shown a need, it becomes indispensable.

It is especially relevant that we are debating the welfare of children during National Sleep-out Week, which is designed to highlight the plight of people, including many young people and children, who are forced to sleep rough on the streets or in bus shelters, alleyways or cardboard boxes. The plight of homeless young people distresses us all. It is a visible sign of our failure to deal with a range of social and domestic problems that give many youngsters no choice but to leave home or local authority care. Many of these youngsters—a few as young as nine or 10 years—find temporary shelter courtesy of the voluntary organisations. The Centrepoint refuge found a doubling of the number of young people sleeping rough between 1987 and 1989 and suggests that the main cause is the absence of cheap accommodation and the young people's unwillingness, often because of fear, to return to the place from which they came. Most sinister is the finding of a group that is campaigning for the end of the Vagrancy Act 1824. It draws attention to an increase of more than 230 per cent. in arrests under the Act of young people who are sleeping on the streets.

That legislation was passed in 1824 to "deal with" veterans of the Napoleonic wars who exposed their wounds in order to solicit money from passers-by. One hundred and sixty-six years later it is used to criminalise young homeless people. Why? Under that Act, sleeping out is a crime, as is asking the public for money. Under more recent Government legislation, 16 to 18-year-olds not living at home or on YTS programmes are not eligible for state financial support. What kind of Government is it who force youngsters to beg in order to survive, make them criminals when they do so, and further criminalise them when they have to sleep rough for lack of money?

A disproportionate number of these young people have run away from care; some agencies suggest that the figure is as high as 40 per cent. We must examine where and why our care system is failing them. A similarly high proportion have told voluntary workers that they were subjected to physical or sexual abuse at home, in school or in care, and cannot go home. I take this opportunity to express my concern about one particular aspect of child protection. I refer to the vetting of adults applying for jobs that will bring them into close contact with children. We have all been appalled by cases of children who were placed in care as a refuge from something that occurred in their background and who have then been further abused while in that care.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities' recent survey on vetting procedures makes alarming reading. It reports delays ranging from three weeks to 10 weeks in some areas. At least one hon. Member has publicly criticised the police for unnecessary and bureaucratic delay, but the picture is not that simple. That police are at full stretch, trying to cope with the greatly increased demand on vetting services. That demand has arisen, rightly, from heightened awareness of the need to extend the protection of children.

In 1987–88, almost half a million inquiries were processed in response to requests from local authority departments, social service departments, probation services, and health authorities. Fewer than 400 requests were received from the Department of Education and Science on behalf of independent schools. Without a Government commitment to provide additional resources, the police will either have to resign themselves to an ever-lengthening backlog of inquiries or to providing a restricted and less than thorough service.

All that is at a time when the Government are encouraging education authorities—especially those in inner city areas—to advertise abroad for qualified teachers to plug staffing gaps. Some European countries provide their nationals with a certificate of good conduct, but not all. Can the Minister for Health confirm, by making inquiries among her colleagues, that the Department of Education and Science provides no guidelines to local education authorities as to the countries in which they should advertise for teaching staff, bearing in mind the important point that reciprocal arrangements exist in some? Do the Government have any plans for extending international co-operation between police forces after 1992, further to safeguard children from potential harm when they are in educational or caring establishments, given that there will be more open access to people from abroad to work in them?

In 1988–89, 2 million children were living in families on income support. Given the acknowledged inadequacies of state benefits, there can be no doubt that those children were, and still are, living in poverty. The children in single-parent families are likely to be worse off. Today, about 1 million lone parents, 90 per cent. of them women, are bringing up 1·6 million children—or 13 per cent. of all the children in the United Kingdom. About 65 per cent. of lone parents are dependent on income support—double the number of a decade ago. Most single parents are discouraged from working for reasons that include the high cost of child care, compelling them to seek a wage far higher than that which they are likely to obtain. They also risk the loss or reduction of housing benefits, the loss of free school meals, and of other concessions that they have when claiming income support. The low level of child benefit is another factor. The children of families living on benefits are at risk of poverty, and the link between poverty and reception into care is very strong.

The Government's most recent figures show that £9 million annually is being spent on preventive work, in trying to keep families together. I approve of that work, but £434 million was spent on fostering and residential care. Something is radically wrong.

A large number of children in this country are on at-risk registers. Latest figures for the London area show that between 400 and 600 children on at-risk registers have no social worker attached to them because there are insufficient staff to do that work. That underclass of child is not only poor but likely to be malnourished. We pay insufficient attention to food poverty. By and large, it is as true today as it was a century ago that a child's health and diet are dependent on its parents' economic status—with the notable exception of some middle-class parents who force-feed beefburgers to their children.

It is no use suggesting that families can work their way out of poverty and that they have only to get jobs for all to be well. Although some new jobs are being created, many of them are very low paid. People are now earning their poverty—receiving less in pay than the value of the supplementary benefits for which they would be eligible if unemployed. The Maternity Alliance report on poverty and pregnancy examined the cost of an adequate diet for expectant mothers. It found that many pregnant women faced serious difficulties in affording the kind of diet recommended by hospitals. The diet was costed at £15·88 per week in 1988—more than one quarter of income support for an unemployed couple expecting their first baby, and more than half the income support for a single woman aged 24 expecting her first baby. What was the use of the 1977 DHSS report that said:
"An inadequate diet before and during pregnancy may impair the growth of the baby and put at risk the health of both mother and child"?
In 1990, it is still women on low incomes, but especially unsupported mothers, whose babies face the greatest risk of being born underweight or of an early death.

I did not intend to give way again. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be called.

Our debates on the Broadcasting Bill have featured some striking omissions in respect of children, including the advertising of sweets, food and drinks on children's television. Recently, I accompanied a delegation to the IBA on behalf of dentists and nutritionists to protest at the amount of advertising of sugar-rich food and sweets. According to one food magazine, more than half of all advertisements on children's television encouraged an unhealthy and mainly sugary diet. Bearing in mind the large number of hours that children spend watching television, the IBA's code of practice is clearly failing to protect them. It is time the Government got tough and brought Britain into line with other European countries. Our guidelines are among the weakest in Europe. No encouragement is given to advertisers to relate proper teeth-cleaning habits or to promote the eating of decent foods. The health of our children should take precedence over commercial interests.

The same argument applies to child road safety and to the important hold that the road lobby seems to have over the present Government. More than 120 children are killed or injured on our roads each day. Road accidents are the leading cause of death among school-age children. We have the second worst record of child road deaths in Europe. We need to know more about those accidents if we are to prevent further loss of life or injury.

Is poor housing, with inadequate play space, to blame? The National Playing Fields Association expressed concern last year at the ever-increasing commercial exploitation of land, insensitive planning and lack of awareness combining to threaten outdoor recreational space. The association says in its 1989 report:
"Too many playing fields and play grounds are deteriorating or disappearing altogether"
and that far too many major housing developments are created with inadequate green space, especially for children to play in. Are we taking any notice of such observations? Three fifths of all road accidents involving pre-school children occurred in the street less than 100 yards from the home. Do we plan for children when building new road systems? Eighty-five per cent, of casualties occur in built-up areas.

Eighty-five per cent. of children live in built-up areas. What a stupid remark.

Over the past decade—[Interruption.] I do not know why Conservative Members find child deaths funny. I do not. I find them appalling. I agree with the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that they have been making stupid remarks. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman on my side. His hon. Friends have been making stupid remarks. Child deaths are not funny, and the fact that 85 per cent. of child deaths in roads occur in built-up areas needs to be studied.

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, that is where they live. If areas are built up to such an extent that children are killed, we should study the planning of such areas and decide to do something about it.

In the past decade we have seen increasing Government support for the arguments put forward by the pro-road lobby at the cost of young lives. The Secretary of State for Transport announced earlier this year that substantial sums would be allocated to new road-building programmes. What proportion of that is going towards road safety? I have submitted a written question on the matter and I am still waiting for an answer.

Children also need protection in the home. The impact of poverty on young lives can have a profound and damaging effect on children's life chances. We can now see evidence—although not yet Government evidence—of how children are being used to prop up the state. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 young people and children are carers of dependent adults. Many more will have taken on a substantial part of the responsibility for looking after brothers and sisters. Financial, practical and emotional help for such youngsters is grossly inadequate, and the Labour party is currently considering ways in which we can meet the needs of that special category of children.

We must reject the attitudes which lay behind the comment from one social services chairman that it was good training for a 10-year-old girl to get up three or for times in a night to help her disabled mother. Something is going wrong. Such children do an adult's work for no pay.

Many more children work illegally for low pay and as many as one in three children between the ages of 11 and 15 works outside school hours. It is estimated that 8 per cent. of them work illegally; they work too many hours. That is between 1 million and 2 million children.

Poverty and adult unemployment mean that all too frequently such children are the only breadwinner in the family, transforming at a stroke working for pocket money into an essential element of the family budget. The Anti Slavery Society, Defence for Children International and other organisations have carried out studies which show that many children work longer hours than adults, often doing two jobs, one before and one after school. Those are the children who are tired at school, frequently go absent for short periods of time and fail to reach expected educational standards. When are the Government going to implement the Employment of Children Act 1973?

I do not have time, bearing in mind what I told you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to go into many other matters. Truancy is on the increase both among younger and older children and how such children spend their time causes great concern to all agencies.

Last November the United Nations adopted a convention on the rights of the child. At its heart lies the recognition that each child is a valuable and unique individual. It stressed the need to balance the child's right to security, protection, education and nurture with its right to be listened to, responded to and respected. Seven months later we are still waiting for a timetable for its ratification by the House. Why are we waiting so long?

I was involved in some of the discussions on the convention on the rights of the child and I noticed that in this country people's thoughts usually flew to Third world children where extreme poverty and underdevelopment deny them security, education, proper nurturing and protection, where they are exploited and abused, and live and work in the streets, robbed of their childhood. Many die before they have a chance to live. However, this country is neither poor nor underdeveloped. We have no such excuse.

7.44 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'welcomes the major programme of work in the child care and child protection field which the Government are overseeing and undertaking in co-operation with local government and the voluntary sector, backed up by the Children Act 1989, which will establish an improved court system for children and a new balance between public support of children within their families and action to protect children from abuse and neglect, and families from unwarranted intrusion by the state; and welcomes other initiatives such as the reformed system of social security which targets help more effectively on the least well off among families with children.'.
Children are the key to our future and the true wealth of our nation. They are our most sacred trust. The Government are committed to encouraging responsible attitudes towards the care and upbringing of children and to providing a framework for health, community, education and social services. Wherever possible, we want to enable families to provide for their children's welfare. When necessary, others need also to be able to assist or to intervene.

The Government undertake to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This is an issue of profound concern to all of us. We want to take forward thinking and action on children's issues. We already have a record of achievement. This debate provides a welcome opportunity to set out our far-reaching programme.

I have already had discussions with the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) on a number of subjects, and I do not for one moment doubt her sincerity about the needs of children, but it is important that the Government should set a framework within which we can work with local authorities. Above all, children belong in families and in communities. We have to spread that sense of responsibility and awareness of children's needs throughout society. It is a source of regret, although scarcely surprise, that so often the hon. Lady should have sought to make rather petty party political capital out of a subject on which, frankly, there are many areas of broad agreement.

The way to provide for the financial side of the welfare of children, as for other vulnerable groups, is to establish a flourishing economy.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, who will wind up the debate, will be speaking in greater detail about some of the benefits that are available to families.

Few doubt the commitment of the Opposition to children, but we all have every reason to doubt their ability to deliver. Under the Government, over the past 10 years, families have seen major improvements in their living standards. There has been a 34 per cent. increase in the real value of take-home pay for a married man on average earnings with two children, compared with an increase of less than 1 per cent. under the last Labour Government.

This year nearly £10 billion is being spent on the whole range of benefits for the family. In real terms that is an increase of more than a quarter since 1979. Under the Labour party, financial support for the family was cut by nearly 10 per cent. in real terms in six miserable years.

The reforms of the social security system have rightly concentrated help on those most in need. This year £5·4 billion is going in social security payments to low-income families—the third year running when these families have seen real increases in income-related benefits.

Family credit, which was born out of the previous family income supplement, is a major initiative which was brought forward by my noble Friend Lord Joseph and is paid to the mothers in almost all cases. It is important in ensuring that working families do not lose out as they cross the threshold between unemployment and work and as they climb the income ladder. The average award is more than £27 a week and family credit now goes to more than 300,000 families—nearly half as many again as were helped under the old family income supplement. Twice as much help is being given now.

I wonder what the Minister would say to one of my constituents who, when she applied to the social fund for her expected baby's needs, was told that she could have money for a cot or a pram but not for both. Is that something which would have happened at any time before the Government came to power? I cannot remember anything like it—unless we look back to the years before 1945.

Unlike the hon. Lady—or perhaps like her—I spent many years before entering this place working with precisely those families who were grappling with the social security system. I worked for the Child Poverty Action Group, and I had the most enormous and overwhelming difficulty getting any kind of civilised or courteous handling for such families under the Labour Government. However, I would not seek to make any capital out of that.

In the provision of welfare services, difficult assessments have to be made. Low-income families can be confident that they have seen their benefits and incomes rise. The Opposition, as we have said time and time again, are not short of rhetoric but are devoid of the ability to turn that rhetoric into reality.

It is not my view, or that of the Government, that resources are the only issue. We also believe that children require the protection of legislation. It is a major tragedy of our society that still there are children in our country who are neglected and abused and whose needs are not being met. We take considerable pride in the Children Act 1989, which was the work of my predecessor, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). It has placed on the statute book an integrated legislative framework which balances the needs of the child, parents and local authorities. We are working closely with local authority associations and voluntary organisations to make sure that the necessary guidance and training is in place. It is the first attempt to establish a unified and consistent code of law covering the care and upbringing of children in both the private and the public sectors. This is but the first of a series of reforms of family law.

We have begun a review of the law on adoption. We are expecting proposals from the Law Commission to reform the law on divorce and domestic violence.

My hon. Friend has extolled the progress that has been made under this Government which, examined by any rational person, can be seen to be great compared with the sanctimonious words that were uttered earlier this evening. However, will my hon. Friend verify that some of the progress that we have tried to make by means of legislation could come adrift if some Government agencies are not sure about the purpose of the legislation? I ask her to consider the fact that Customs and Excise is making life difficult for those who offer a fostering service to more than three children by insisting that they should register for VAT. The Inland Revenue has been helpful and sympathetic but Customs and Excise has not. That is an example of the Government's intentions not always being fulfilled by a Government agency that is not helping those who foster and who may subsequently adopt children in need.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his concern. If he will give me more details about those cases, I shall look into them.

I have referred to the important progress that we have made in trying to clarify and establish a legal framework that pays better regard to the needs of children. Those of us who have long deplored the needlessly destructive effects of the legal process on families welcome this progress towards an integrated structure of family law. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Eccles has had to leave the Chamber, since she stressed that point.

The Children Act sets new standards in child care. The welfare of the child is paramount and must underpin any decision that a court makes about the care and upbringing of children. The Act specifically requires the court to consider the child's wishes and feelings, its physical and emotional needs, the likely effect of changed circumstances and whether the parents are capable of meeting the child's needs. The Act explicitly recognises that the child's welfare requires separate consideration from any rights or needs of the parents. We replace terms such as "parental rights and duties" with the concept of parental responsibility—a responsibility that persists through divorce, separation or care. It can be relinquished only if the child is adopted.

The new range of court orders concentrates the minds of parents on their continuing responsibility for the upbringing of the child in family proceedings. The hon. Member for Eccles did not refer to the responsibilities of parents. We recognise that there is a role for Government and local authorities and that often there is a central role for voluntary organisations, which have done so much to improve child care, but we believe strongly that parents, above all, have a responsibility and that legal processes should never inadvertently undermine their role.

I waited to intervene until the Minister had completed her remarks about the Children Act. I am disappointed that she has not responded to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) to talk about resources. All those who are involved with the implementation of the Children Act are concerned about adequate resources being made available for the purpose. When the Bill was considered in Committee emphasis was placed on the fact that additional resources would be needed. Already there are huge backlogs over the registration of child minders, day nurseries and private facilities because social services departments have been unable to employ sufficient people to complete their registration. What do the Government intend to do about that?

I have not remotely come to the end of my remarks on the Children Act. I shall certainly deal with the implementation process and with the specific point made by the hon. Member for Eccles. Each year we have discussions with local authority associations about the challenges that they face. The resource implications of the Children Act were recognised by the Government. During this year's public expenditure discussions with local authorities we are considering whether additional resources will be needed. Some of them were referred to by the hon. Member for Eccles, such as the resource implications of those leaving care. The hon. Lady has a great interest in the working of the Children Act and I recognise her concern.

I return to the question that unites my hon. Friends—the responsibility of parents. Too often, under present arrangements, court orders treat children as though they were possessions to be fought over, along with the car a nd the microwave. The Act makes it clear that the child's religious persuasion, racial origin—a matter of concern to the hon. Member for Eccles—and cultural life and linguistic background should be taken into account in decisions affecting the child. Once again, recognition of the child's needs is central.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is truly amazing that in her 28-minute speech the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) made no mention of the role of parents in the welfare of children, or of the role of parents in terms of accepting responsibility for their children? Is it not much more practical and realistic to ask ourselves about the responsibility of parents instead of knocking the Government and offering no alternative policies?

The role of parents is fundamental. I have made it clear on many occasions that their role is not properly recognised. I think that both sides agree about the duty of local authorities under the Children Act to safeguard the welfare of children within the family, wherever possible. All hon. Members agree that, ideally, local authorities should not intervene only in order to remove a child; they should safeguard the child's place within the family. That is one purpose of the legislation.

Lord Joseph referred to the cycle of deprivation. He has made a continual and valuable contribution to the debate on the role of the family. The title of his most recent work, "The Rewards of Parenthood", speaks for itself. The background against which a child grows up is fundamental. Children require stability, continuity and affection as much as they need food, shelter and education. Some parents require help to cope with their child's demands. Bringing up children is no easy task. Individual children and circumstances present different challenges to different parents. No other role calls for the range of talents and sustained commitment that parenthood requires.

I draw the Minister's attention to a particular difficulty—what is going on in the Hong Kong camps. Britain has responsibility for that colony. I visited various camps last week under the auspices of the Hong Kong Government. I saw thousands of children in a camp holding 22,000 people on an eight-acre site. They were living in indescribable squalor behind metal bars and barbed wire. The psychologists and psychiatrists who visited the camp have reported that those children will be damaged for life. What do the Government intend to do about the conditions under which they live? Those children are being damaged. They are the responsibility of the British Government and it is all happening under the Union Jack. What are the Government going to do about it? I was besieged by people in those camps asking for a response from the British Government.

Hon. Members will agree that it was wrong for me to give way to the hon. Gentleman. It is clear that the Government are deeply committed to resolving the situation in Hong Kong, but it is far from easy. The Opposition have naive aspirations with no possible mechanism for translating their pious hopes into policies and arrangements that can deliver the assistance that is required. I do not intend to give way any further.

Prevention of family breakdown is always better than cure. Volunteer or befriending schemes can help families to deal with difficulties, and a professional social worker or agency does not necessarily need to become involved. We particularly applaud the work of the home start consultancy, but others such as NEWPIN are being funded out of our £2 million under-fives initiative that is directed particularly towards assisting the voluntary sector. Similarly, the development of family centres in recent years has done much to promote informal networks. I know that many hon. Members support a range of professional and voluntary organisations that play a crucial role.

The hon. Member for Eccles spoke about the needs of children leaving care. There is not doubt that leaving care without adequate support and proper arrangements can easily exacerbate a child's difficulties. A recent report has suggested that something like one third of the homeless youngsters on the streets of London were previously in care. The House will know that we are looking carefully at the problem of homelessness among young people. It is a complex, multi-faceted problem. It is not a question of vagrancy legislation or the particular arrangement of social security benefits. The Children Act placed a new duty on local authorities to advise, assist and befriend each child that they look after with a view to promoting his welfare when he leaves care. We fund a number of voluntary organisations to assist in that important work.

The number of women joining the work force is growing, and it is estimated that women will take up to 90 per cent. of the additional jobs that will be created between now and the end of the century. We firmly believe that parents should decide for themselves whether both parents or which parent should work when their children are young or still dependent.

A variety of day care services for pre-school and school-age children should be available so that parents may choose which best meets their children's needs. In the past 10 years there has been a rapid expansion in day care provision—a 90 per cent. increase in the number of children placed with child minders. In the debate about workplace nurseries I hope that none will overlook the important contribution made by child minders who can provide a continuity of care and stability that many other arrangements cannot. There has been a 75 per cent. increase in day nursery places, and all will welcome the recent concession from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to assist with workplace nurseries.

There has been an 18 per cent. increase in playgroup places. Playgroups provide help and day experience for 400,000 children each year. It is the most popular and widely used system for providing activity during the day for pre-school children and has the unique characteristic of providing encouragement, support and collaborative experience for the parents about whom my hon. Friends feel so strongly. In Britain 86 per cent. of all three to five-year-olds benefit from some form of day care or educational provision. Few other countries rival our record—only France and Belgium do—and the Netherlands is the only other country in the Community where children start compulsory full-time education at the age of five.

We believe that central Government have a role in establishing a legislative framework to regulate day care services, to issue general guidance on standards and quality and to test out new initiatives.

We see local authorities not as the monopolistic providers of day care, but increasingly as enablers. They have an important strategic and co-ordinating role to bring together local authority agencies, employers and voluntary groups to ensure that in each area adequate provision can be made for the growing number of children whose parents wish them to benefit from some form of pre-school experience or day care.

The hon. Lady mentioned a scourge on modern life. It is a source of perplexity and great concern that in an age of unprecedented prosperity we continue to have in our midst children who are the subject of abuse. We have faced a series of harrowing tragedies where children have suffered or lost their lives at the hands of their parents. However, we have made substantial progress in child protection.

I am sure that the hon. Lady is well aware when reporting the number of children on at—risk registers that the figures are difficult to interpret. It is welcome that more neighbours, relations and parents are coming forward to suggest that children are at risk. The statistics have to be interpreted with some subtlety. We plan to reissue the document, "Working Together" which emphasises the central importance of collaboration between agencies. Time and again in child abuse cases the lack of inter-agency collaboration, co-operation and communication was a major source of the child's tragedy. Assisted by the National Children's Home, we are looking to set up a treatment initiative to study the range of treatment facilities currently available for abused children and young perpetrators of abuse. We plan to publish a further study of child abuse inquiry reports. So often the facts are recited at a major inquiry, but we wish to ensure that those facts and lessons are properly disseminated and learnt.

Above all, we recognise that effective training underpins good practice. The Department is devoting £19·4 million to its training support programme including £2·5 million for training on the Children Act and just over £7·3 million for training in child care and child protection. That will be of major assistance to local authorities and will ensure that those which continue to have difficulties—such as the ones to which the hon. Lady referred—can recruit and retain the staff that are so important in providing the necessary care.

Inevitably, co-ordination within Government is important. It is achieved through well-established interdepartmental liaison and working. There is scarcely a Department that does not have some responsibility or involvement with children. We want a co-ordinated, effective and comprehensive approach to child care policy. The interdepartmental group on child abuse was set up in March 1987. Its work is effective and it meets regularly to make further progress.

In the provision of day care, I chair the interdepartmental consultative group on provision of services for under-fives which regularly meets the local authority associations and voluntary bodies. It also includes the Department of Education and Science, the Home Office, the Department of Employment, the Department of the Environment, the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish and Welsh Offices. The ministerial group on women's issues, so ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, has addressed itself to improving child care options. Recently, a number of initiatives have been set in hand: encouraging the establishment of a national association for commercial consultancies and providers, the Childcare Association; funding work on a new "kitemark" scheme for nurseries and consultancies to give further reassurance to parents; and encouraging schools to provide day care facilities after school hours or during holidays.

At a more recent meeting we set in hand the further provision that will shortly be produced by my Department of the new guidelines and regulations to local authorities on day care for children under eight on which we work closely with the Department of Education and Science.

The programme includes our work with local authorities to help them improve their practice on the registration of day care and the development of information services. When parents require services, they often require the information on how those services can best meet their and their children's needs. Our programme also aims to encourage employers to become involved in providing help with child care for their staff. There is an important role for employers who want to ensure that they can retain their work force as we move towards demographic change. It is important to build them into the partnership. Within Government, we are setting an example. At the last count, 26 Departments had their own holiday play schemes. We believe in example as well as exhortation.

Children's health is an important matter. There has been a continuing improvement in children's health over the past decade. The infant mortality rate and the various associated rates are key indicators not only of the state of maternal and child health and of NHS services but of national well-being. The figures for 1989 are particularly encouraging, showing the rates at their lowest-ever levels. Infant mortality is down from 12·8 to 8·4 per 1,000 births in the past 10 short years; perinatal mortality is down from just over 14 to just over eight per 1,000 births; and neonatal mortality is also down. This is a credit to all those working in the Health Service. It is a stimulus to further improvements in our services.

We are not complacent. Local figures vary between social and ethnic groups. A major initiative which vie announced last year in our reply to the Social Services Committee's report on perinatal, neonatal and infant mortality is designed to help us understand better the reasons for these local variations. Efforts must be more closely targeted to securing their reduction. We are seeking an even better performance. All regional health authorities have been asked to introduce regional epidemiological surveys of stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Each needs at least one paediatric pathologist in post to conduct a review of the need for further posts. Why do particular babies die? What more might be done to prevent their deaths? The confidential inquiry into stillbirths will have an important part to play. These initiatives include a critical review by the Medical Research Council of research into a problem that has caused great concern to many hon. Members—cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome.

Spending on maternity services increased by 16 per cent. in real terms between 1980 and 1988. Nursing and midwifery staff in the key areas of special and neonatal intensive care have increased. We have made progress on many other fronts. The hon. Member for Eccles referred to the source of the greatest number of deaths of young children by accidents—road traffic accidents. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) who has aimed to make everyone aware of the importance of belting up in the back and taking responsibility for children in cars. The Department of Transport recently launched a child road safety campaign in which the NHS is committed to playing its part.

The GP contract is another opportunity to provide better care for children. For the first time, child health surveillance becomes an option from the GP as well as from local community services. Our commitment to promoting improved immunisation rates, again collaborating with GPs, will be a major force for good in protecting children. Recently, we announced the remarkable new rates of vaccination and immunisation. We have not yet met all the World Health Organisation targets, but we are determined to do so.

We are committed to an integrated child health service. Under our proposals, the district health authority and family health service authority will work together to ensure that there is an integrated health service for children. The system of contracting will allow a more explicit and better analysed provision of services. There is no doubt that the progress that has occurred in past years will be consolidated and developed as our health reforms move forward.

The hon. Member for Eccles referred to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. The United Kingdom played a leading role in drafting it. We demonstrated our commitment to the convention by signing it in April and aim to ratify it as soon as possible. The convention specifically draws together the rights of the child in one internationally recognised document. It will serve as an international standard against which countries that turn a blind eye to child exploitation, abuse or neglect can be measured.

Progress has been made but challenges remain. The Government's co-ordinated programme of work on children's issues is ensuring that the physical, mental and social welfare of children and their parents is promoted at all times. I urge my hon. Friends to reject the Opposition's motion.

8.15 pm

It is repugnant to think of people posing as social workers to get into homes to molest children to satisfy their perverted desires. The distress caused to those families will live with them for a long time. It is imperative that all these perverted people be caught and punished. It is obvious that they are beyond redemption. Such people must be punished with all the force of the law.

But the law still fails to try alleged child molesters. Even when a person has been charged with sexual abuse, and despite the change in the laws on the giving of evidence by children and allowing video links, I am still getting letters from distraught parents where courts are refusing to hear cases. It cannot be right that parents and children learn to have so little faith in our legal system.

The Government should realise how the law is still failing our children and should make a speedy decision to implement in full the report by Judge Pigot of the advisory group on video evidence. Until and unless this far-sighted report is implemented, I can see little progress or justice for children in our courts. We have to do everything possible to reduce the abuse of our youngsters, but to reduce abuse we need not only to punish hut, if possible, to prevent. Of course many child molesters cannot be and have no wish to be reformed, but we know that some feel sick at what they do and desperately seek help. To help our children, we must help them.

There are people such are Ray Wyre of the Gracewell clinic in Birmingham who work hard to try to rehabilitate people who have been convicted of child abuse. But what help is given to assist those who have never been caught and who need help to stop? How many times have the words, "I knew that I was doing wrong, but I didn't seem able to stop," been said by child abusers? Surely it makes sense to establish some kind of help line and counselling for those who wish to stop this dreadful abuse. We recognise the need for help for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling abuse and, through Relate, for marriage breakdown.

The money, the advertising, the concern and the effort put in to tell desperate people where help is available are to be applauded, but where are the advertisements that say, "Ring this number so that we can help you to stop abusing children"? Surely it makes sense to establish some kind of help line to them. The argument against this is that any help line would be dealing with a criminal act, which it would have a duty to report to the police. I understand that, but when it comes to the protection of children and to saving them from abuse, we must look at the law and the legal position of help with different eyes, and we should say that anything that can be done to safeguard children from suffering should be done.

I would rather not give way, because we are pressed for time.

It is obvious that, in order to help our children, we must do something to help child molesters to stop abusing. Molesters cause great harm to many children, but many other children are hurt by our neglect—for example, the neglect to provide safe playgrounds. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reports that last year 50,000 children were injured in playgrounds and a number were killed. Of those children, 11,500 were under five. Imagine the headlines in the tabloid press if 50,000 children were injured in a football stadium in one day. There would be a national uproar, massive media coverage, a public inquiry and calls for Ministers to resign. However, because those injuries are spread throughout the country and throughout the year, hardly anyone notices.

The progress being made by local authorities towards the provision of safe surfaces and safe equipment in playgrounds is painfully slow because of lack of money and the fear of rate capping. If grants can be given to football stadiums—rightly so—to improve safety, why cannot the Government give special grants to local authorities to improve the safety of playgrounds? The children's pain and suffering is no less because the accidents are spread over many days. We have a duty to those 50,000 children to protect them from harm, broken limbs and even death.

Not only do we have a duty to the unknown number of children who suffer abuse and the children who suffer injuries in playgrounds: we also have a duty to provide shelter for all our children. It is a disgrace that, last year, 120,000 households were accepted as homeless by local authorities and that London appears to be in danger of becoming the Delhi of the western world. We need only visit cardboard city, which is only a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, to hear stories of desperation and of young people being criminalised under the vagrancy legislation because society and hon. Members have failed them.

In the 10 years between 1979 and 1989, 1 million families were registered as homeless in this country. That represents about 3 million people, over half of whom were children. For them that has meant poor living conditions, overcrowding and often insanitary conditions, with no privacy or space to learn or to develop. For too many of our young people, that has been the background to their family life.

We must provide houses for people at rents that they can afford. The housing associations are doing their best. The private sector is failing badly. The Government must make it possible for councils to build houses for those in need. Children deserve warm, comfortable, safe homes.

It is our duty to protect the welfare of children. We in Parliament cannot dodge that responsibility. We must ensure that children receive the protection of the law, that they are not put at risk in playgrounds and that they are brought up in homes worthy of Britain in the 1990s. We should not and we must not fail them.

8.22 pm

It is a sad reflection of the level of interest in the welfare of children among Labour leaders that they have reduced this debate to half a day. We should not scamper through a debate on children. I want to address my remarks on the welfare of children primarily to the health care needs of children and the way those are met in Lancaster, the area that I know best.

Last Thursday, the north Lancashire Child Poverty Action Group produced a report entitled "Poverty in North Lancashire", which was not only highly misleading, but a slur on the hospitals, doctors, nurses and everyone else who provides devoted health care in Lancaster.

The Lancashire CPAG selected Bulk ward, which contains Moor hospital. That is a long-stay mental hospital which has a large number of very elderly, long-stay residents who live there for the closing years of their lives. Not surprisingly, there is quite a high rate of respiratory disorders and deaths from lung cancer in that ward. From that, the report deduces that, if one lives in Bulk ward, one is four times more likely to die of respiratory disease than the average English resident and twice as likely to die of lung cancer. What that has to do with a report which is ostensibly about children I am not quite sure, since we have never had a death from lung cancer in a child and the child death rate in Bulk is similar to that in Silverdale, which can scarcely be described as a deprived area.

The north Lancashire Child Poverty Action Group's report does not give a shred of credit to the local health workers for the many firsts that they had achieved. Ours was the first district to have a child development centre and the first district to attach nursing staff to health care teams and to provide domiciliary physiotherapists, who visit people at home and can help children and others with respiratory problems. The 24-hour domiciliary nursing service was one of the first, if not the first, in the country.

Because of the very high standard of health care in the city, people, including children, come from miles around to benefit from the care that our hospitals provide. When the NHS reforms are implemented next year, and money follows the patient, we will be able to expand our hospital services still further.

In 1988 we had a quite unexpected, sad and inexplicable upturn in perinatal deaths and an inquiry was set up immediately to discover the reason for that, since we had been well below the national average for perinatal deaths every year from 1976. The inquiry found that those sad deaths were of babies with congenital defects so severe as to be incompatible with survival. The figures soon to be published for 1989 will, thankfully, show that that sad phase is now over and that we are back well below the national average once again. I cannot blame the local Child Poverty Action Group for not knowing that welcome news as the results for 1989 have not yet been published. However, the report is to blame for the equally misleading account of unemployment and its relationship to children.

There are no figures for the percentage unemployed in separate wards. Those figures have simply not been compiled. There are figures for the number of unemployed people living in each ward and I have been receiving those figures for years. However, as there are no figures for the total work force, any percentage figures are pure guesswork.

None of that means that we or anyone concerned with health care for adults or children are in any way complacent in Lancaster. We are all constantly striving to improve services in our hospitals and in the community and to provide better jobs. A new children's unit will bring together almost all the specialist provision for children in one unit. In addition, under the new health reforms, there will be a new area director for the new family practitioner committee area of the Lancaster and Blackpool districts, whose brief is to assess health care needs and to develop services to cope with them.

In particular—I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister referred to this point—43 local GPs will be able to perform minor surgery, thus cutting waiting times, and no fewer than 23 GPs in the city have received approval to provide a child surveillance service. Children will also undoubtedly benefit from the emphasis on health promotion and preventive medicine in the NHS reforms.

There is, however, one area of Government policy with which I do not agree. I believe that child benefit, as a free-standing, non-means tested payment direct to mothers, should be index-linked, like tax allowances and other benefits. That is what I understood by the pledge in our election manifesto that child benefit will be paid
"as now, to the mother."
It is possible that I misunderstood the pledge, but I believe that my interpretation is better than the Governrneni:'s. For many women, child benefit is their only independent source of income and they rely heavily on it. It should be indexed, and I hope that that will be done in the forthcoming expenditure round.

However well we look after the health needs of our children, however much we may improve employment prospects and the material aspects of their lives, the prime ingredient in a child's welfare is, and will remain, a happy, stable home. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister placed great emphasis on that.

No marriage, however good, can ever be wholly free of ups and downs—not even that of my hon. Friend the Minister. Indeed, it would be very dull and boring if it were. However, the House bears a heavy responsibility for weakening the marriage bond. The time that must elapse between marriage and divorce has been steadily shortened and the deterrents to living together without undertaking the reciprocal responsibilities of marriage have been steadily diminished. If hon. Members really care about the welfare of children, the House must take a lead in refusing to make divorce ever easier and instead put as much energy as possible into building up marriage and thus make the best possible contribution to the real and lasting welfare of children.

The declaration of the rights of the child, of which I have a copy, includes in its preamble protection before and after birth. It is a pity that the House forgot that when it cavalierly cast away the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 six weeks ago.

8.30 pm

Last year I had the opportunity to speak in the House and in Committee during the passage of the Children Bill. That Bill, which is now an Act, did not go far enough for some of the people who are concerned with the welfare of children, but it was welcomed by all as a step in the right direction. The Act consolidates and simplifies the complex law relating to children. It is intended that the Act be brought into force by October 1991, but already the timetable lags behind.

One of the features of the Act and one of the nagging concerns of many hon. Members was that it left many decisions on policies and procedures to regulations by the Secretary of State. Some of those matters can have serious consequences for the children concerned. Before implementation, there must be time for the various bodies concerned with children's welfare to scrutinise and assess the implications of the regulations and, if necessary, to make representations to the Secretary of State. To date, only one regulation has come forth from the Secretary of State for Health. I understand that his time has been taken up with other matters, but that is the very point that I make. Will quick correct decisions be made?

The measures to be introduced in the Act are coming in at a time of great change. Local authorities, which will be responsible for implementing many of the measures contained in the Act, are facing massive upheavals. Now and in the next few years, local government will be expected to come with changes in our schools through local management, the national curriculum, competitive tendering, the privatisation of services, the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, community care, changes to our National Health Service and, as everyone is only too aware, a restructuring of the financial system, with the consequential nightmare of the administration of the poll tax. Each of those items affects the welfare of our children.

I firmly believe that the Children Act 1989 does not go far enough. As I said on Second Reading on 27 April 1989, the Act does not address such important factors as inadequate housing, low incomes, general deprivation and other issues that were aggravated by the Government's lack of concern and by their policies for local government, child allowance and social security payments. Things have got dramatically worse.

Homelessness has increased by 20 per cent. Over the past three years, the number of homeless households placed in temporary accommodation has increased by 25 per cent. The number of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 who, under the Children Act are still regarded as children and who are homeless and, on the streets of London, is estimated as at least 50,000. Those people do not appear in the official statistics. When we add that figure to the 362,309 homeless persons, as estimated by Shelter, it adds up to many hundreds of children living in conditions that are detrimental if not outright harmful to their health, well-being and quality of life.

In 1987, there were more than 450 known cases of children being taken into care simply because of homelessness. I wonder what the figure is today—perhaps the Minister can enlighten us.

Children of homeless families are known to suffer physically, emotionally and educationally. They have a poor chance in life. There are short-term, medium-term and long-term remedies for relieving the number of homeless. Most of them are well documented, including those contained in my party's White Paper entitled "Housing: A Time for Action" and in the document entitled "Seen But Not Heard", which was launched today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). The Government have the power to do something, and they must not neglect their duty. Surely in this day and age children have a right to a roof over their heads.

Poverty is one of the main causes of homelessness, but, even for those who are lucky enough to have a home, poverty is a major factor in poor health. The number of known families with children living below the poverty line has increased enormously over the past few years. It is a common perception that, since the Goverment took office, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. The effects of the high interest rates and the rising inflation of the past two years alone must give some truth to that statement. Ilowever, the one benefit that is directed specifically at children has been frozen for years. The restoration of its value would go a long way towards improving the life styles of children from low-income families.

Current trends in society and in the market demand that more and more mothers go out to work, yet we still have one of the worst European Community records in the provision of nursery and child care. Once again, the Goverment's policy on tax relief for workplace nurseries, although welcome as an anti-discriminatory measure, will prove beneficial only to those who by definition already have an adequate income because they pay more tax. Nursery care, out-of-school care and other child care services should be a major priority for all children, but such care is even more important for the disadvantaged. There is a general duty on local authorities to provide services for children in need, but the wording of the duty is not as strong as many would have hoped, and the delivery of such services may depend on adequate funding and resources.

That is unfortunately true of many of the Government's measures and changes. I say "unfortunately" because, although some of the ideas are right, I do not believe that they are introduced for the best reasons. Most changes are taking place because of political ideology rather than interest in the welfare of the child or other client. Part of that ideology is to save the public purse.

The measures contained in the Children Act and in the proposed changes to community care will call not only for a change in attitude in social services but for training in various skills. The proposed changes could work well as long as local government is given the funds and resources required to implement them. Some of the proposals currently being implemented in education may also have some benefits, but, until the Government realise that they need to provide for the anomalies that have appeared in the funding mechanism, chaos will still reign and our children will lose.

I do not think that adequate funding for the proposals in the new health Bill will help to improve our Health Service. The proposals can only damage a health service that was designed to provide comprehensive health care free at the point of delivery. They will also have a detrimental effect on the health of our children. Once again, those in need will suffer most. I fear for the future. The debacle that we have seen with the introduction of the poll tax and future pressure on local government finance may bring about the end of many personal social services that are vital to the well-being of the community as a whole.

When funds are scarce, local authorities will need to set priorities. It is difficult to judge priorities in the provision of such vital services, and it is likely that the services that are not already in place will be the first to get the axe. That does not augur well for services that contribute to the welfare of children.

I have tried to cover many topics, but, because the welfare of children depends on so many of our institutions, we should go further. The Department of Health, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Environment, and the Department of Social Security have a major part to play. At local level, education, health, social service and social security offices interplay. Co-operation and co-ordination are essential. Some local authorities are already achieving a level of co-operating and co-ordinating their work—others are dragging their feet for one reason or another.

All those bodies need Government support, possibly institutional, to encourage them and to guide them. At the very least, we need a national strategy for the welfare of children—a clear statement of aims, objectives and rights that can form the framework within which all the departments and bodies concerned with children can work. That would make their job a great deal easier.

On Second Reading of the Children Act, I called upon the Government to take the opportunity of attaching a children's charter to it. I failed in my attempt, but I was pleased to have the opportunity to table an early-day motion to welcome the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. I urge the Government to take the necessary measures to ratify the convention and to use it as a base upon which to build a national strategy for the welfare of our children.

8.40 pm

I was impressed and pleased when I saw that the Opposition had chosen the welfare of children as the subject for today's debate. However, my feelings soon changed when I found—as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has commented—that at short notice the debate had been reduced to half a day to allow a debate on eye tests. That is an issue on which I share the Opposition's view, but the timing is singularly inappropriate and it is unfortunate that that debate led to the curtailing of this debate.

Then I saw the opening words of the Opposition's motion, which are pure party political claptrap. I then read the rest of the lengthy motion in which there is no mention of the Children Act 1989, which is surely the most important piece of legislation in this area to have passed through the House in this Parliament—or, indeed, for a century. It is the most important piece of legislation since the original Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act 1889.

The passing of the 1989 Act was marked by all-party support throughout. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and his hon. Friends who served on the Standing Committee deserve some of the credit for the success of that Act, but that legislation has been completely ignored in the Opposition's motion. It is deplorable that the Opposition should now choose children as the basis on which to launch a party political attack. That does not reflect any credit on them.

The Children Act struck the right balance between the rights of children, the rights of parents and the responsibility of the state in the form of the local authorities. Alas, we all know the long string of cases, followed by inquiries, when the social worker has intervened too late. Cleveland is still fresh in our minds; to put it no higher, in some cases the social workers were too precipitate. It was important that we should get that balance right, and I hope and pray that we did so in the Children Act. Among the Act's many notable features is the recognition of the principle that the child's welfare is paramount. The Act introduced the emergency protection order, and especially the child assessment order, which is such an important step in allowing access to a child where there is concern, but not necessarily an emergency.

We have passed the Act and it is now up to the local authorities to implement it, together, of course, with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is named in the Act and which, as the House knows, has 66 child protection teams on 24-hour call in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The House will be aware of my interest in and involvement with t he NSPCC. Needless to say, my reference to the society in no way diminishes my admiration for the work of the other organisations to which the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) referred.

I know of my hon. Friend's support for the work of the NSPCC, but is he aware ofits work in funding Westminster house in Warrington, which is the first team effort of its kind for child protection? That centre is right next to the courts and social services which, together with the NSPCC, combine in trying to provide good services for children from Cheshire and further afield. I understand that it is the first such centre in this country.

I am not familiar with the project that my hon. Friend has mentioned, but it is typical of the way in which local authorities and organisations such as the NSPCC can work together for the benefit of children.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister detailed the extra funds that will be provided. We cannot emphasise too strongly how vital it is that adequate resources are available to provide both the facilities needed to implement the Children Act and the training for those with the job of implementing it.

We all understand the demands that are placed on the Government from all quarters and what happens during the public expenditure survey, but, as the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) said, we must all recognise that local authorities have particular difficulties at the moment in introducing the community care provisions of existing legislation—the Children Act, and other measures. If adequate resources are not provided for the implementation of the Children Act, all our efforts in the House will have been in vain. It would not be the first time that we have been accused of passing legislation for the ends but not providing the means.

The motion refers to co-ordination between organisations in gathering information. A lot is going on in that area; much of it, such as the register, follows initiatives from the NSPCC. There is a need for research into understanding child abuse and the most effective forms of intervention. We must consider how best the various agencies—medical, social work and police—can work together in this area.

We should not underestimate the size of the problem or the number of children who need protection. To quote but one statistic, in the year to the end of September 1989, 49,000 children were referred to the NSPCC alone. The NSPCC estimates that nationally probably 8,000 children suffer physical abuse, 6,000 are sexually abused and thousands suffer from neglect or emotional abuse or are simply left alone for many hours.

Our approach should be based on the four principles of the United Nations convention—the four Ps of prevention, protection, provision and participation. Prevention involves the development of, for example, drop-in facilities and self-help groups for young parents. Even earlier, we should include preparation for parenthood—how important that is—in the school curriculum. Prevention also includes making the public more aware of the problem by organised publicity such as the NSPCC's "Listen to Children" campaign.

Protection involves the proper training of social workers to ensure that children at risk are protected. As the hon. Member for Eccles said, it is not acceptable to have children on the at-risk register if a social worker is not assigned to them.

Provision means the provision of help to families and single parents who are poor, inadequate or homeless. Those are often the circumstances in which abused children are found. Such children are in danger of growing up and perhaps eventually becoming abusing parents themselves—and continuing the cycle.

Participation means giving the children themselves access to help through things such as Childline—the NSPCC's child protection line.

I join the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) in urging the Government to implement the Pigot report so that children can be involved in court proceedings through video—recorded evidence and do not have to suffer the trauma of appearing personally. We must ensure that children are properly represented in court proceedings by independent guardians ad litem.

Children should be involved as far as possible in decisions affecting their future. Against the four principles of prevention, protection, provision and participation, the Government have a record of promotion of the welfare of children of which they can be proud. They should be proud but not complacent. Ministers know better than I do that there remains a great deal to be done. Certainly, the ratification of the UN convention would, as the Opposition motion suggests, be an earnest of the Government's commitment to the cause of the welfare of children. I realise that my hon. Friend the Minister could not give a specific date, but I urge her to use all her influence to ensure that ratification takes place as soon as possible.

8.50 pm

I pay tribute to the Opposition Front Bench for giving us tonight the opportunity to raise issues of great concern to many of our constituents. I found it amusing that my Front-Bench colleagues were attacked for allowing only three hours for this debate. At least we have three hours. The Opposition have taken that initiative. It is a great pity that the Government have not taken such an initiative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) referred to worries about bogus social workers. That is a particular problem and worry for many people in the Yorkshire area, where the largest number of incidents has been reported. The figure mentioned at the police conference earlier this week was about 170, of which they are taking seriously approximately 30. I wish to express my anxiety that, although there have been many incidents and many descriptions have been given of the individuals involved, no arrests have been made and no one has been brought to book. I do not criticise the police: I simply ask whether police forces are allocating sufficient resources to the police officers conducting the investigations. Perhaps the Minister could raise the matter with her Home Office colleagues.

I had hoped that the Minister for Health would remain in the Chamber, because the Department of Health has a responsibility in the issue of bogus social workers. It is in a position to make clear to the public precisely what social workers can and cannot do. The Minister will be aware, as I am, that the powers of social workers on the doorstep are limited. In view of the extent of the problem, the Department should have issued a clear statement through the Government's publicity machine informing the public what powers social workers have. I hope that the Minister will communicate to her hon. Friend the Minister for Health my anxieties about the matter. The Department could be helpful in following the example of the British Association of Social Workers and several local authorities by issuing a statement such as I suggested explaining to the public what social workers can and cannot do.

I had the positive experience not too long ago, along with the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and some of my hon. Friends, of serving on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill. There was a consensus within the Committee, and the two sides worked together in a positive way, as the hon. Member for Chislehurst said. I am worried by the complete failure of the Government properly to fund the implementation of that legislation. That anxiety has been expressed to me by local authorities, councillors and directors of social services and, indeed, by voluntary organisations involved in child care. It is estimated that, in the next financial year, local authorities will need £140 million of additional resources to implement the legislation properly. If the Government are serious about the Children Act 1989, they must provide the money required at grass roots level to implement the good work that could arise from it.

The Minister could also communicate to the Minister for Health that local authorities are worried by the lack of guidance from the Department of Health on the implementation of the Children Act 1989. I understand that local authorities were promised about 30 sets of notes of guidance some considerable time ago. The documents were due to be released by the Department of Health but they have yet to appear. In view of the time scale for implementation, it is about time that the Department of Health got its act together to get the information through to local authorities.

As I said, I and some Conservative Members felt that there was a political consensus in the Committee on the Children Bill. However, it has become apparent in the debate tonight that there is no political consensus about the reasons behind the problems faced by children who come to the attention of local authority child care and social services departments and the problems that vast numbers of children at risk face day by day.

We have heard comments from Conservative Members about parental responsibility. As a parent, I take that responsibility seriously. I am sure that any parent takes it seriously. It is the responsibility to give the child food and shelter. But it is easier for some parents to exercise that responsibility than for others. That is the difference between the two sides of the Chamber tonight. Opposition Members recognise that fact. What annoys me deeply about the Government's tactics in the welfare of children is the way in which they deliberately encourage the belief that child neglect and abuse should be viewed simply as abnormal family behaviour—as an individual, not a societal matter. I feel strongly about that.

For much of the time before I became a Member of Parliament, I was involved directly in dealing with cases of child neglect and abuse in my work in social services. It is worrying that the Government see child abuse and neglect as a technical problem which needs technical solutions. They do not see it in the wider context that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) outlined. My hon. Friend was accused of playing politics. We are not playing politics: we are examining the real issues behind many of the problems which face children who are abused, neglected and hurt in our society.

It is vital that child welfare is seen in a wider political context and that we examine and address the causes, not just the symptoms presented day by day to social services departments. The causes include poverty. Let us be honest about it. Both Conservative and Opposition Members recognise that there is poverty in our society. Whatever one's politics, we can see it in our surgeries every week. People simply do not have enough to live on and are driven to desperation in many instances.

From the work that I have done, in social services, as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament, I recognise the connection between poverty and the number of children who end up in care. The figures on children in care show that most of them come from poor families. That is no coincidence.

During the recess last week, I read a book called "The Politics of Child Welfare" written by two former colleagues of mine in West Yorkshire, Nick Frost and Mike Steen. One quote from that book rang home with me, because it made sense:
"The families of the poor have little left to lose. Why should they lose their children?"
Let us take the issue seriously. It is wrong that we take the children of poor people into care. We should look for alternatives. At present we often do not do so.

I do not need to quote the Social Services Select Committee report, which makes it clear that the position of the poor had worsened under this Government. That has directly affected vast numbers of children and we should be ashamed of it. I do not need to mention unemployment, but there is a clear correlation between family breakdown and unemployment. It has been widely researched and there is objective political consensus that it has a bearing on family and marriage breakdown. In my area there has been an 800 per cent. increase in homelessness. Children are entering care simply because their parents do not have a decent house for them to live in. That is a scandal in this day and age, yet it is happening today, this week, this year. It is wrong.

I am only the second or third man to speak in this debate. It is interesting that we have a predominance of women in the Chamber for this debate, and I welcome it. I only wish that more women were Members of Parliament. They have a particular contribution to make on this issue.

Sexual inequality has a direct relationship with sexual abuse. We should look at the matter and not play politics with child sexual abuse, as some hon. Members do. We should seriously consider why these problems arise. Sexual abuse is predominantly about male power and the way in which society allows a distorted construction of masculinity. It is particularly distorted by the squalid commercial use of sex. It is interesting that the newspapers that peddle pornography are those that strongly support the Conservative Government. There is a clear correlation between the two. We need to address the fact that certain men turn out as they do. It is difficult for us males to do that. I hope that we shall have more time in the Chamber to address those difficult issues.

I am worried about how we address the problems of children at risk in terms of supervision, not prevention. If something goes wrong, we blame the social worker, the health visitor, the lack of inter-agency co-operation, bad parenting or bad professional practice, but not bad policies or bad Governments. It is about time that we started looking at how bad policies and bad Governments, of whatever political complexion, have a bearing on what happens to children.

There is a desperate need to change the agenda on child welfare to tackle the causal factors of the problems—for example, how we treat the poor, how we treat black people and how men treat women. We need to look at those issues. Above all, we need a strategy that looks not just at the clinical treatment of individual children and individual families, but at overall economic and housing policies and policies on sexual equality. Issue after issue has a bearing on the lives of children. That strategy will be number one on the list of priorities of the forthcoming Labour Government, and I look forward to their election.

9.2 pm

Tonight the Opposition have chosen to put child welfare at the top of their agenda for one evening, although, unfortunately, there are not many here to witness it. Contrary to what their motion says, over the past 11 years children have always been at the top of our agenda.

I welcome the debate because it helps to provide an umbrella welfare policy over all the measures from the many Departments, including the Departments of Health, of Social Security and of Employment. All are involved in the needs of children. Unfortunately, the Opposition have opposed many of the measures that we have introduced in the past 11 years. I hoped that tonight the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) might suggest some constructive policies, but in their absence from her rather gloomy speech I remind her of Labour Members' vociferous opposition to our education reforms.

Education is the basis of any child's development. If the ground rules are not firmly established at an early stage in a child's education, all talk of the child's welfare may as well go out of the window. Parents, teachers and peer groups are children's greatest role models. If their important influence and example are felt in early years, many later problems, particularly in teenage years, could be slashed. Although I am a career woman, I am the first to admit that there is no one quite like mum. If mums can possibly stay at home for the first five years of a child's life—I know that in many cases mothers must work—that child will have a stable start in life.

I am encouraged by the progress that we have made in bringing parents and education closer together. That has been neglected in the past. Not so long ago, many schools did not welcome parents into the classrooms, and parents were not encouraged to form parent-teacher associations; now, at long last, they are not being kept at arm's length. Our reforms involve parents in knowing what their children should be learning, and when they should learn, in assessing their children's ability potential and in knowing their children's weaknesses and strengths throughout the crucial school years. Parents are now encouraged to become school governors, to choose where their children go to school and—in many ways—to say who should run their school.

I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Eccles did not mention the role of parents. Nothing gave me more pleasure than visiting a school in my constituency and seeing many mums informally reading with their children: it was not just a few children and parents, but a hallful. One more ingredient must be added to the education reforms. I know that I could be labelled old-fashioned, but to formulate successfully the foundation for our children's education we must give them sound discipline. I am not alone among parents in saying that if we restored corporal punishment it would be a great help to teachers. Any debate on the welfare of children cannot get away from the subject of discipline.

Of course more mothers are going out to work. I fear that, as a result, in some areas where it is difficult to provide child care and parents have not adequate resources there could be an increase in the number of latch-key children hanging round waiting for their parents to come home from work. I am encouraged that the Government have taken the initiative to write to chief education officers and school governors to ask for school premises to be made available after school, and—more important—during school holidays. It is ridiculous that school sports facilities, for instance, are closed for a third of the year. In inner cities such as mine, many children live in high-rise areas, and have not had experience of green areas. I am sure that we could encourage more education authorities to make school facilities available.

I cannot give way; time is pressing.

People sometimes forget that children are their parents' responsibility, and not society's. Some parents abdicate that responsibility which imposes a burden on the rest of society. It is encouraging that, to assist the Government and parents, many action groups are now coming forward. It is sad to hear that children—some barely out of their prams—are tempted to smoke, drink and, certainly in my area, to sniff glue and take drugs. I congratulate groups such as the "parents' action against tobacco" campaign, which aims to discourage shopkeepers from selling cigarettes to children; the Portman group, which aims to deter underage drinking; and the Birmingham Post campaign to try to stop shopkeepers providing children as young as 14 with video nasties which should be given only to people over 18. All those initiatives should be endorsed.

The hon. Member for Eccles mentioned the power of television advertising. I would go a step further. We talk of the influence of parents, schools, and children's peer groups, but the influence of television is especially worrying. From the age of four onwards, children are watching an average of three to four hours' television a night. I am sure that none of us would support that, as it is a great tragedy and a bad influence on our children. Children now have greater expectations and more pocket money. Those are all social trends that contribute to the welfare debate.

I know that the Opposition throw stones at us about the number of homeless children today. Many do not choose to make themselves homeless, but I am disappointed to hear Opposition Members suggest that we should encourage young people to take the option to leave home to go to London should they wish, and allow them to sleep rough.

My hon. Friend the Minister also informed us that many young people are driven out of their homes. Families should do all that they can to keep together.

In common with the Minister, I encourage every young person into training. As the option for training on YTS or whatever is available to every child, I am amazed that Opposition Members should suggest that if a child does not want such training it need not take it. Surely our aim must be to encourage children to train so that, ultimately, they can get jobs.

I know that many of my constituents welcome the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill as they hope that it will contain further measures to make parents responsible for their children's criminal actions. I have no doubt that if parents have to go before a court and pay some of the fines imposed on their children that will make them more responsible for their children's actions.

I recognise that domestic violence and divorce are increasing. Those are serious issues and, as things are getting worse, I have no doubt that the Government will need to consider them more closely. It is inevitable that domestic violence and divorce cause emotional problems for children and financial resource problems for the Government. It is right that we are taking steps to make fathers who leave their wives and children more responsible. At the moment only a quarter of fathers make the desired payments and it is right that the Government should act.

I also applaud the work of the agency Relate. If we can prevent children from being harmed in any way and families from being broken up, we must support agencies such as Relate whose voluntary workers do their best to keep families together.

I found the Opposition's motion somewhat waffley and I have not heard many constructive policies from Labour Members. I know that the Labour party has put forward many proposals in its policy document and perhaps tonight was an opportunity to give some of them an airing. However, the hon. Member for Eccles did not mention nursery education, perhaps because she is aware of the 50 per cent. increase in nursery school provision by the Government. Perhaps she is also aware of the cuts imposed by the previous Labour Government. I believe that I am right in saying that the hon. Lady was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education when considerable cuts were made in educational provision and that she was forced to resign.

I admire the hon. Lady for following her principles.

When the Labour party criticises our measures on child welfare it should remember that it made hasty promises in the past about nursery education for every child. We have sustained our promises and the Labour party would be ill-advised to make new promises that it cannot keep.

Tonight has been a valuable opportunity to discuss the many issues involved in the welfare of children. This has been an important debate and I thank the Opposition for choosing to discuss the subject. The Conservative party is committed to children and they are safe with us. Our policies prove that we are responsible towards them and many of the Acts that we have produced recently demonstrate that.

9.13 pm

Last November I asked a series of questions and, over a number of weeks, pursued lines of inquiry about the sexual abuse of children. If we have been asked for plain speaking tonight I should remind the House that, in 1988, 13 people were charged with the murder of an infant under one year of age, 229 people were charged with cruelty or neglect of children, 56 people were charged with child abduction, there were 2,159 cases of indecent assault on a female aged under 16 and 320 cases of buggery with a boy under 16 or with a woman or an animal.

Tonight in the main line stations of this city many young people will come here lost and in need of advice. Many of them will have run away from those role models about which we have just heard—those very parents who should provide care and consideration for them. Many will be at risk from adults whose depraved tastes are such that they not only continually seek the company of children whom they seek to corrupt and attack but also continually seek access to child pornography.

In 1992 the gates of our country will be opened to even more child pornography under the name of freedom of trade. What do the Government intend to do about that? What do they intend to do about the work of the interdepartmental committee about which the Minister has spoken and which is carrying on day by day? What results can they offer us in the encouragement of police forces to set up specialised units to deal with child pornography, and with attacks on children and in providing proper resources and proper back-up forces? There is no point in blaming a police force which is undermanned and under attack because of the amount of money that it requires from local authorities if the Government are not prepared to treat this matter seriously.

I asked for a programme of the work of the interdepartmental committee because I wanted to see what had happened since November about the work that is so essential. I looked at many of the studies that are being undertaken and I was horrified by the tiny amounts of money that are being allocated. Professional intervention in child abuse rates £23,000. Intervention in child sexual abuse rates £225,000. In the list of subjects to be considered I found under the heading of
"Feasibility of a prevalence study"
the news that
"This will examine the feasibility of a study to provide reliable estimates of the scale of sexual abuse of children in England and Wales."
Parliament does not know how many children are being abused day after day and night after night. We come here and trot out cliches about role models and caring Governments, but Parliament has no access to the information that would enable it to decide where to send money or where to provide facilities. We do not have enough social workers or trained teachers and we are even losing many people from our police forces whom we will need to deal with the abuse of children that is becoming a real danger every day of the week.

When we go away this subject will disappear, but abused children will not. The House requires better of the Government than a simple listing of amounts of money. Every voluntary organisation in the land is committed and we know that people of good will exist. How can the Government answer not just to hon. Members but to the people who elected them by saying, "We mean well and we are committed to a general good idea of parental authority. Unfortunately, we have no intention of spending money, time or effort to do anything to protect those who are most at risk"?

9.17 pm

The Opposition are to be congratulated on giving us at least a half-day debate" because it gave the Minister a chance to put forward a robust explanation of the Government's policy towards children and the family. That is now on the record and will give great heart to Conservatives throughout Britain who are concerned about these issues and worried about the efforts of the Government. I congratulate the Minister on showing how co-ordinated those efforts are, not only in their scope but in the way that they are beginning to interrelate.

Many of us who were worried about family matters and their relationship to children were perhaps under the impression that policy had not been carefully thought through, but, clearly, we are out of date and the Minister is ahead of the game. In that context I look forward to the winding-up speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security who I know has been putting in a great deal of effort on these matters in the Department.

There is no difference between the Government and the Opposition in terms of our genuine concern for children. There is also no difference in our understanding that the Government have a clear role in dealing with problems. We have heard about the many measures that the Government have brought forward. The difference seems to lie in understanding what the voluntary sector can do. Some Opposition Members have shown not so much a disdain for voluntary organisations but a concern that the work that they do is not being undertaken by the Government. I think that it is a positive virtue that it is being done by voluntary organisations, which have skills that are specifically related to the task that they are undertaking. These organisations are the closest to the problems. I welcome their work——

No. I have little time to make my speech. If more time were available to me, I would willingly give way.

The reality is that voluntary organisations are doing excellent work. I am sure that all of us have connections with them and that we would all like to cite what they are doing. Recently, I came across the National Playing Fields Association and its mean streets campaign. It is an excellent way of highlighting some of the problems that arise in urban areas and an example of the effective way in which a voluntary organisation can work with local and national government.

There is no doubt that the Government have spent record sums on many of the areas of concern to which attention has been drawn tonight. The Government have produced the Children Act 1989, which provides an important legal framework. However, the welfare of children is not confined to state or Government intervention. Our concern must focus also on parental responsibility and family values. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health has talked eloquently about parental responsibility, and that is a central consideration. The Government have a role in protecting and developing the child and his environment, but they cannot be a substitute for the family. Therefore, we should judge the Government's role and the scope of their policy by how well they create conditions that encourage family life and remove obstacles to the betterment of that life.

It is with great sadness that all of us have noted figures that show that the background against which teenagers are growing up is of considerable concern. Some of the statistics are worth recounting even if they are known to hon. Members. We know that one in three marriages ends in divorce and that the divorce rate in Britain is one of the highest in Europe. Births outside marriage account for 25 per cent. of all births. The number of lone-parent families in receipt of income support is about 725,000. That is the latest figure in my possession. These are worrying statistics. The Government are not to blame for them, but the important consideration is how they react to them. Also important is the change in moral values within society.

Homelessness has rightly been mentioned, because it affects children. It is interesting that 43 per cent. of those who are classified as homeless cite as the cause of their plight the break-up of family life and the lack of ability or willingness of the family to accommodate them. Another 17 per cent. cite the breakdown of a relationship with a partner as the cause of homelessness. This background is important to the way in which our children develop and the way in which they begin to learn to face the world.

The Government are tackling the issues, and various figures have been mentioned. It is important to note that £10 billion will be spent in 1990–91 on a range of benefits for the family. That is an increase of 25 per cent. in real terms since 1979. That is to be compared with a net decline under the last Labour Government—this is in real terms of course—of over 8 per cent. That justifies the Government's confidence that we are doing our best. Further efforts are being directed to the homeless to try to hold families together. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has announced a specific scheme that will target directly several millions of pounds to agencies such as the citizens advice bureaux and SHAC. That is important because they can give on-the-spot counselling to enable families to stay together and perhaps reduce the likelihood of children leaving their homes and becoming homeless.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security will draw attention to the fact that we are targeting income support directly at those who are the poorest. I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) says about child benefit. She made a powerful contribution which was based on great experience. The problem with child benefit is that, even if it were increased, it would not benefit those receiving income support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster is certainly a person of great independence. I do not challenge that, but I believe that the Government are right to target income support rather than increase the more general provision of child benefit.

The Government are beginning to do the right thing in other areas of child welfare and parental responsibility. Although at least one Opposition Member objected to the Government's efforts to make parents more responsible for the behaviour of juveniles, I believe that they are generally welcomed. I go further, and suggest that parents should also serve a period of community service, rather than just make juveniles perform that obligation.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury recently announced that the Inland Revenue will provide the private addresses of parents to enable the Department of Social Security to chase up those who should be making maintenance payments—such as the husbands of women who are still bringing up their children.

Sadly, our debate on this important subject has been too short. Parental responsibility is a vital factor. Unless the Government encourage parents to take more responsibility for their children, no amount of legislative measures will by themselves be effective. The present Government have a fine record. We must build on it to ensure that parents play their part in a partnership that will make certain that our children will grow up in a better and safer world.

9.26 pm

In the few minutes available to me, I shall draw the attention of the House to a particular group of children about whom I have grown increasingly concerned in recent months. I refer to children in care. Contrary to popular belief, the concept of taking children into care and thereby affording them a degree of protection that has hitherto been missing from their lives is all too often no more than a myth. I do not mean to disparage the efforts of the many dedicated social and care workers, and the people who run our children's homes to the very best of their abilities, in attempting to provide a reasonable life for youngsters who have invariably had a difficult start. However, I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that many children's homes are unloving, brutal places—and I do not use those words lightly.

Repeated complaints by children in care have been ignored over the decades, for a variety of reasons. When children are placed in care, they are sometimes put at greater risk than had they remained at home. One hon. Member remarked that all too often a social worker intervenes too late. I should like to be certain that, when a social worker intervenes, and when a child is taken into care, the provision made for that child is better than that which it left behind.

Dr. Michael Lindsay is a children's rights officer in Leicester who works also for an organisation called Voice for the Child in Care. Earlier this year, he wrote to draw my attention to some of the work that he has done in investigating 30 cases in which inquiries were made into the conduct of the staff of certain children's homes over a 10-year period. Those were just the cases that came to light following intense pressure—usually from the media. Dr. Lindsay has, like me, reached the conclusion that one is dealing not with a number of isolated incidents involving particular offences but a trend that is endemic in children's homes.

Children's homes are, for a variety of reasons, forced to employ people who have not been properly vetted, and who do not have the skills necessary for dealing with the sometimes very difficult children who are brought to them for care and attention. The children who are easiest to look after are usually fostered or adopted. It is the most difficult children who remain in institutions.

In Greenwich, two investigations into local children's homes have produced frightening results. In one case, the local ombudsman was the final resort for the children in question, after previous inquiries had whitewashed complaints. The ombudsman's report said that there was an
"almost total lack of professionalism"
among senior staff. Talking about the experience of one girl, the report said:
"Whatever innocence or childhood she had left was lost … This may well have affected her future life and her ability to form relationships".
Physical, sexual and emotional abuse were highlighted, as well as bad language by staff, under-age drinking and sexual relationships between staff and children.

I know that the pressures on time mean that I cannot develop the argument that I would wish to make for a better review of the situation of children in care, including independent access for them to make complaints. I ask the Minister to consider initiating a serious study into the experiences of children currently in care and those who have been left in care.

Before I came to the House, I was involved in a number of such projects on other subjects commissioned by the Central Office of Information. A thorough and professional study would shock the nation into the action which is so long overdue.

9.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security
(Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

This has been a wide-ranging debate of great interest and importance to the House. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) for giving the House the opportunity to debate these issues. Her interest in the welfare of children is well known and has been demonstrated over the years.

I shall respond to as much as possible of what has been said, although time will not allow me to speak on all the main issues raised.

With reference to health and those matters specifically connected with the Children Act 1989, my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, who opened the debate so skilfully, has been present throughout most of it and will have taken note of the subjects raised. We will both ensure that matters which concern other ministerial colleagues are referred to them.

I shall briefly mention some of the excellent contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) gave her usual spirited defence of Lancaster health authority. I am sorry that she is not in her place—[HON. MEMBERS: "She is."]—yes, she nearly is. It is always a pleasure to acknowledge her enthusiasm for Lancaster health authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) again demonstrated his deep knowledge of the subject, and the experience that he has drawn from his association with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

I was impressed by some of the points made by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), particularly on bogus social workers and what the public expect of social workers. I, too, have had long experience and association with social services departments and have been struck by the ambivalence of the public's attitude to what is required of social workers. It causes great difficulty and is something with which the Government, the British Association of Social Workers and the Association of Directors of Social Services grapple, and it seems difficult to find a solution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) gave her usual impassioned defence of parental and individual responsibility for which I thank her.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) has taken a particular interest in the work of voluntary organisations on homelessness, particularly among young people, and I thank him for his contribution.

In introducing the Government's response to the debate I can do no better than refer the House to the 42 principles of good child care practice which underline the Children Act. I, too, find it strange that the Opposition omitted to refer in their motion to the Act and the 42 principles. The Children Act represents the most comprehensive contribution to the welfare of children that has ever been enacted by Parliament, and the 42 principles form an excellent base for a children's charter.

Children and their families are important to us all. During the past decade the Government have sought to strike a balance between family autonomy and parental responsibility and the protection of children by the state, where that is necessary. We have emphasised the practical, in the belief—repeated only a few weeks ago by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office in a debate on the family—that the family is the basic building block of society. The aim of Government policy, co-ordinated throughout Government Departments, has been to emphasise the central role of the family in society.

The Government do not believe that part of their role is to develop grand social engineering schemes. However, they can and do promote the interests of the family by encouraging independence and choice while at the same time providing help for families who are unable to cope with the wide range of contemporary pressures that face many of them today. The vast majority of parents are able and willing to take their responsibilities seriously. It is curious that little mention has been made by the Opposition of parents' enthusiasm for their role. For those parents, who are in the majority, the Government, by developing a prosperous economy, have provided choice and independence. However, they must provide help for families in difficulty, for whatever reason.

Reference has been made to child benefit and the income levels of families with children. While responding to those points, may I make a few general remarks about the Government's social security policies. The House is already aware that in the coming year the Government plan to spend a record £55 billion on social security. That represents the third increase in real terms since we came to office. It amounts to £20 a week for every man, woman and child in the country.

It is worth bearing in mind the fact that because of the Government's economic policies—increased earnings, lower taxation and higher personal allowances—there has been a growth of £20 a week during the past year in the take-home pay of a married man on average earnings. Other tax changes, such as independent taxation for women, will also result in increased incomes for better-off families. For less well-off families, we have been able to direct specific help towards families with children—including lone parents—and the disabled through income support and family credit.

It is not only better-off families who will benefit from independent taxation. Pensioner wives on moderate incomes will now be able to count their part of the pension against their tax allowance.

My hon. Friend is right.

For the less well-off, we have been able to direct specific help towards families with children, through income support and family credit. Family credit in particular provides a significant tax-free cash income, payable to over 300,000 low-income working families with children. The same families obviously do not benefit over a period, which means that far more than 300,000 families receive help. The average payment is over £27 a week. In nearly every case family credit is paid to the mother.

To target resources on those in need involves making judgments about the needs of different groups at different times. It was no doubt with the need for flexibility in mind that when the Opposition introduced child benefit 15 years ago their legislation required child benefit to be reviewed but not to be indexed annually. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security was considering last year's uprating of child benefit he had to consider all the circumstances, including the increase in average take-home pay and the fact that an automatic increase in child benefit would not help the least well-off families on income support and family credit because those benefits are adjusted to take account of changes in the child benefit.

How can the hon. Lady claim justification for saying that increasing child benefit does not help those on the lowest incomes on the ground that income support is automatically adjusted to take account of any increase? The Government are responsible for the regulations stating how much money people can keep. It is the Minister's responsibility and nobody else's if child benefit does not help those at the lower end of the scale.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention makes absolutely no difference to the point that I was making. Increasing child benefit across the board would benefit a great number of families who do not need that help, but targeting resources, as we have done, has increased help to less well-off families.

Has the hon. Lady read the report of the Social Services Select Committee about the impact of Government policy on the poorest families? Has she taken into account the problems that Government policies have caused to those on marginal tax rates who are doing much worse? Child benefit is the one benefit that would have targeted services to children and given them the livelihood that we know they need and deserve.

Obviously, I have read the Select Committee report. The fact that I am making a point about targeting clearly implies the Government's recognition that some families have not done so well as others. As the hon. Lady will know, there has been a distinct improvement in the interaction of tax and social security benefits.

Concern has been expressed about lone parents who have a particularly difficult time bringing up their children. Special provision is made for lone parents within the social security system. Unlike their counterparts in many European countries, if they are on income support they can choose whether to work and to do whatever is in their children's best interests. Many wish to work and about one third of all family credit recipients are lone parents. They receive the same rate credit as a couple, and one-parent benefit is disregarded in the calculation of family credit. The most lasting and worthwhile contribution that the Government can make to lone parents and their children, who we all agree may be vulnerable, is to ensure that the absent parent, usually the father, makes a realistic contribution to the maintenance of the children. The Government are doing that through their review of maintenance and the across-the-board review involving the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office, the measures introduced in the Social Security Bill and the administrative measures which are already in force in our benefits offices.

Mention has been made of housing and homeless young people. As I have said a number of times in the House, there is no need for 16 and 17-year-olds to be without an income. I am astonished that Opposition Members should seek in any way to encourage young people to go straight from school into the benefit culture. The whole point of the change made by the Government was to discourage such a trend. We have made many adjustments to the interaction of YTS and income support in response to points made by voluntary bodies. We are also tackling in particular the problem of families forced to live in bed-and-breakfast hotels. It is clearly wrong that such accommodation should be used for families except in an emergency or for very short periods and that is why we shall inject £250 million over the next two years into schemes in London and the south-east aimed at reducing that need. Clearly, every effort must be made to reduce the tragedy of young people leaving home or care to end up walking the streets of London. We are looking closely at how our policies work together with a view to ensuring that appropriate assistance is available, and further announcements will be made shortly.

The Government have over the past decade consistently pursued a range of policies across Departments to improve and foster the welfare of children, in the firm belief that the family is the foundation of our society. Basic to that belief have been our economic achievements, which have improved the prosperity of the majority of families and have enabled us to help families who are less fortunate. The Children Act 1989 is the most comprehensive child care legislation ever enacted by Parliament. There have been significant increases in spending on education for children of statutory school age and the under-fives. We have increased spending on the family through social security benefits by more than a quarter in the past decade to nearly £10 billion. The Labour Government's shameful record shows that they cut that help by nearly 10 per cent. during their period of power. Those achievements are real and practical and they are happening, and I ask hon. Members to reject the motion.

9.45 pm

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and one or two other Conservative Members said that it was a disgrace that a debate on the welfare of children had been reduced to half a day. That was both right and wrong. It was certainly never planned as anything more than a half-day's debate. I agree, however, that it is a disgrace that in 11 years of this Conservative Government the first debate on the general welfare of children had to be initiated by the Opposition, not the Government.

We have heard many proud boasts, but as we approach the last decade of the 20th century we now lag behind every other comparable modern democracy in the treatment of our young people from cradle to college. The hon. Members for Lancaster and for Southport (Mr. Fearn), my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and others mentioned child poverty and the Minister responded—it was the only part of the debate to which she responded. There are more than 12 million children in Great Britain. For many—indeed, most—childhood is a happy and a secure time, but for millions, unfortunately, it is other than that. As we enter the last decade of this century, it is a tragic fact that almost 75 per cent. of families on benefit, many with young children, now have to borrow to make ends meet, that 56 per cent. cannot meet their bills on time and that over half have to borrow for large expenses or have fallen behind with debt repayments. We discovered recently in a pamphlet issued by Conservative central office that much of this poverty is "self-induced"—once again, a lecture from those who constantly lecture the shoeless of the world to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That poverty is not self-induced, but it is often Government produced.

The Government do not need a crystal ball to see where their policies are leading. It is in their own books and those of others. A Policy Studies Institute survey has shown hat 50 per cent. of couples on benefit run out of money halfway through every week and that 60 per cent. of them lack a complete standard set of clothing—not a Picasso or a Porsche, but a basic decent standard set of clothing. [Interruption.] The reaction of Conservative Members does not surprise me. The poverty of people has always been a laughing matter for others in this society.

A MORI survey showed that 3 million people with children in their households are unable to heat their homes. The horrific impressions created by those independent figures are confirmed by the Government's figures, yet tonight we heard the usual lecture from the Minister, who told us that these factors are all relative. We constantly hear that poverty is relative. There is nothing like a philosophical discussion on poverty among those who have never suffered it. This shows, because in the same breath the Minister proudly boasted to us of the percentage increase in benefits available.

The Government may have missed something—the elementary point that percentages are also a relative term. One hundred per cent. of nothing is nothing. Even where the benefit targets are reached—often they are not—the benefits allowable for a young child do not meet even the minimum weekly costs of maintaining that child. According to objective observers, the minimum estimated cost of providing for a two-year-old child for a week is £12·17. The Government's income support allowance for that child is £11·75. The minimum estimated cost for providing for an eight-year-old is £16·82, but the Government's income support allowance is still £11·75. What kind of Government refuse to provide no more than 70 per cent. of the minimum cost for even the poorest families to raise an eight-year-old child? We must also bear in mind that all those benefits are now means tested.

The Government have targeted for gradual abolition the one universal, most effective and most important instrument for the alleviation of child poverty—child benefit. The Under-Secretary referred to the abolition of the uprating of benefit in a euphemism to which we have become used. She referred to it as last year's uprating exercise—an innovation for this Government. There have been three uprating exercises, but no uprating. Labour will restore those cuts in child benefit because that is right, just and long overdue.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

I am afraid that I am restricted by the time. The Under-Secretary gave way several times, largely because she did not respond to the debate. I am trying to do that.

I must disappoint the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) on the question of child care and education. The United Kingdom has one of the worst records in Europe of state provision of child care. Despite the references made by the Minister for Health to provision by the voluntary sector, only Ireland and Luxembourg are worse in their state provision for children aged two and under and only Portugal is worse than us in the provision for three and four-year-olds.

Of course we welcome the tax concessions made in the last Budget for workplace nursery schemes. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been urging that for a long time. However, the Government should be under no illusions. The number of workplace nurseries is extremely small at the moment. Last year the Workplace Nurseries Campaign reported that there were only about 100 such nurseries in Great Britain, and only about 20 of those are provided by the much-vaunted private sector. More importantly, the care of children is too important to be treated merely as an adjunct to the flows and ebbs of the labour market. Child care provision is a litmus test of a modern civilised society. It should be a right in itself, not merely a means of ensuring a supply of female workers.

Almost half a century after the establishment of the National Health Service, social class still determines the chances of a child's survival. The Minister for Health referred to surveys and to falling infant mortality rates.

The standard of health care is determined by where someone lives. In Lancashire the average expectation of life is two years below the national average. However, in Lancaster it is a year above that. It depends on where one lives, as does the standard of education. It does not depend on social class.

To some extent it depends on where one lives, but to a much greater extent it depends on how one lives, and that includes housing and health. None of the Government's propaganda can cover up the overriding statistic that in the mid-1980s, 40 years after the formation of the NHS, babies of fathers in unskilled jobs were twice as likely to be stillborn or to die within their first year as babies of professional fathers.

The hon. Member for Lancaster made much of the pro-life movement. Life does not end at birth. If all British children, irrespective of class and social circumstances, enjoyed the same chances of survival, between 2,500 and 3,000 young lives would be saved in Britain every year. It is a scandal that they are not.

Time is restricted, and I am trying to reply to the debate.

A lack of education in parenthood and pre-parenthood and an overstretched and underfunded National Health Service and deprived housing and social conditions contribute to the problem. I do not claim that there is a simple solution. However, the reality is that there is a direct link between deprived social conditions and ill health among children. One of the most deprived conditions leading to ill health is homelessness.

Hon. Members have heard that, of more than 122,600 homeless households in priority need in Britain, 18,000 had dependent children, while another 17,000 households contained a member of the family who was expecting a child. Eighty per cent. of those homeless households involved children or expected children. For older children the latest estimate suggests that 150,000 16 to 19-year-olds experience homelessness each year, yet the Government cannot even tell us the number of homeless children on the streets of the major city of Britain.

When we ask the Government for statistics on missing children they tell us to go to the Children's Society. When we ask them for statistics on the number of illegally employed children they ask us to seek information from the Low Pay Unit. When we ask them how many children are left in the streets of London they tell us to phone the Salvation Army. It is not just that the Government are ignorant of the facts; they are woefully ignorant of the facts and will do nothing about it. They have done nothing about implementing the Employment of Children Act 1973, yet we know that about 80 per cent. of children's employment is now illegal.

We have heard the figure of 98,000 missing children. We are not pretending that every instance results in a child being permanently missing, but we are saying that 50 per cent. of runaway children go missing more than once, 7 per cent. are estimated to have engaged in prostitution, and 20 per cent. are reckoned to be involved in drug abuse. It is an absolute shame that the Government cannot even tell us how many children are missing in any month and must refer us to the voluntary sector.

Child abuse has been well covered tonight by my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield, for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). No matter how dreadful, how distasteful and how horrific, child abuse must occupy our minds. Again, we do not suggest that there are easy solutions. Nevertheless, we need to save the most vulnerable children.

We do not pit families against children, but we assert that there are many circumstances in which responsibility must fall on the Government because the families of abused children have already failed them. With the Children Act, we have seen the acceptance of parental responsibility. When parental responsibility has failed, we, on behalf of society, must act. The Children Act was welcomed by the Opposition and we fully supported many of its aspects. But how can we expect the Prime Minister or the Government to take on board society's responsibility when we have a Prime Minister who, 60,000 years after the first settlements in the Mesopotamian valley, still does not believe that society exists, far less has a responsibility?

Reference has been made to the convention on the rights of the child. Why were we given no timetable for ratification, no information on 1992 and its effects on the employment of labour, and no indication of moneys being allocated to road safety? Of course we support and admire the voluntary sector, but, above all, the voluntary sector needs a Government who are committed to partnership in the protection of children.

Hon. Members pride themselves on being a representative assembly. We represent some of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged sections of the community. We have men and women—too few of the latter. Our membership includes disabled people, some of whom speak with great experience and knowledge of the disadvantages faced by the disabled. We have our fair share of old-age pensioners. Some would say that we have our fair share of the unemployed as well——

But there is one group in this country that has no voice and no vote. Children are the hope of the country and the backbone of the future of our country. The generations to come will judge that the Government have been lacking in their protection of our children.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 197, Noes 288.

Division No. 225]

[10 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeDobson, Frank
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Doran, Frank
Allen, GrahamDuffy, A. E. P.
Alton, DavidDunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Anderson, DonaldEadie, Alexander
Archer, Rt Hon PeterEvans, John (St Helens N)
Armstrong, HilaryFatchett, Derek
Ashley, Rt Hon JackFearn, Ronald
Ashton, JoeField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Fisher, Mark
Barron, KevinFlannery, Martin
Beckett, MargaretFlynn, Paul
Bell, StuartFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Benn, Rt Hon TonyFoster, Derek
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Fraser, John
Bidwell, SydneyFyfe, Maria
Blair, TonyGalloway, George
Blunkett, DavidGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Boateng, PaulGeorge, Bruce
Boyes, RolandGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bradley, KeithGodman, Dr Norman A.
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Gordon, Mildred
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Gould, Bryan
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Graham, Thomas
Buckley, George J.Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Caborn, RichardGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Callaghan, JimGrocott, Bruce
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Canavan, DennisHenderson, Doug
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Hinchliffe, David
Carr, MikeHoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cartwright, JohnHome Robertson, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clay, BobHowells, Geraint
Clelland, DavidHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHoyle, Doug
Cohen, HarryHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett, RobinIllsley, Eric
Corbyn, JeremyIngram, Adam
Cousins, JimJanner, Greville
Crowther, StanJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cryer, BobJones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Cummings, JohnKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cunliffe, LawrenceKirkwood, Archy
Cunningham, Dr JohnLeadbitter, Ted
Dalyell, TamLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Darling, AlistairLewis, Terry
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Litherland, Robert
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Livingstone, Ken
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)Livsey, Richard
Dewar, DonaldLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dixon, DonLofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, EddieReid, Dr John
McAllion, JohnRichardson, Jo
McAvoy, ThomasRobertson, George
McCartney, IanRobinson, Geoffrey
Macdonald, Calum A.Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, WilliamRowlands, Ted
McLeish, HenryRuddock, Joan
McNamara, KevinSalmond, Alex
McWilliam, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Madden, MaxSheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs AliceShore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Short, Clare
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Skinner, Dennis
Martlew, EricSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, JohnSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Meacher, MichaelSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Meale, AlanSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michael, AlunSnape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Spearing, Nigel
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Steinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr LewisStott, Roger
Morley, ElliotStraw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mowlam, MarjorieTurner, Dennis
Mullin, ChrisWallace, James
Murphy, PaulWalley, Joan
Nellist, DaveWareing, Robert N.
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
O'Brien, WilliamWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWigley, Dafydd
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Patchett, TerryWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Pendry, TomWilson, Brian
Pike, Peter L.Winnick, David
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Prescott, JohnWorthington, Tony
Primarolo, DawnWray, Jimmy
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles

Tellers for the Ayes:

Randall, Stuart

Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Martyn Jones.

Redmond, Martin
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn

NOES

Adley, RobertBright, Graham
Aitken, JonathanBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Alexander, RichardBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBuck, Sir Antony
Amess, DavidBudgen, Nicholas
Amos, AlanBurns, Simon
Arbuthnot, JamesBurt, Alistair
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Butterfill, John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Ashby, DavidCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Aspinwall, JackCarrington, Matthew
Atkins, RobertCarttiss, Michael
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Cash, William
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Baldry, TonyChapman, Sydney
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Chope, Christopher
Batiste, SpencerChurchill, Mr
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyClark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Bellingham, HenryClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bendall, VivianClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Benyon, W.Colvin, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterConway, Derek
Body, Sir RichardCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCope, Rt Hon John
Boswell, TimCormack, Patrick
Bottomley, PeterCouchman, James
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaCran, James
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Critchley, Julian
Bowis, JohnCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardDavis, David (Boothferry)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinDay, Stephen
Brazier, JulianDevlin, Tim

Dickens, GeoffreyJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dicks, TerryJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, StephenJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dover, DenKey, Robert
Dunn, BobKilfedder, James
Dykes, HughKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Eggar, TimKirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Knapman, Roger
Evennett, DavidKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fallon, MichaelKnowles, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Knox, David
Fishburn, John DudleyLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fookes, Dame JanetLang, Ian
Forman, NigelLatham, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lawrence, Ivan
Forth, EricLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanLee, John (Pendle)
Fox, Sir MarcusLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Franks, CecilLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
French, DouglasLilley, Peter
Gale, RogerLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Garel-Jones, TristanLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gill, ChristopherLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Glyn, Dr Sir AlanMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Goodlad, AlastairMaclean, David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gorst, JohnMadel, David
Gow, IanMajor, Rt Hon John
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Malins, Humfrey
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mans, Keith
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Maples, John
Gregory, ConalMarlow, Tony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Ground, PatrickMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Grylls, MichaelMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hague, WilliamMates, Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hampson, Dr KeithMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hanley, JeremyMellor, David
Hannam, JohnMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Miller, Sir Hal
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Mills, Iain
Harris, DavidMiscampbell, Norman
Hawkins, ChristopherMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hayes, JerryMitchell, Sir David
Hayward, RobertMonro, Sir Hector
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Moore, Rt Hon John
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Morrison, Sir Charles
Hind, KennethMorrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelMoss, Malcolm
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Moynihan, Hon Colin
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Neale, Gerrard
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Nelson, Anthony
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Neubert, Michael
Hunter, AndrewNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Irvine, MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Irving, Sir CharlesNicholson, David (Taunton)
Jack, MichaelNorris, Steve
Jackson, RobertOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Janman, TimOppenheim, Phillip

Page, RichardStradling Thomas, Sir John
Paice, JamesSumberg, David
Patnick, IrvineSummerson, Hugo
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTapsell, Sir Peter
Pawsey, JamesTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Porter, David (Waveney)Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Price, Sir DavidTemple-Morris, Peter
Raffan, KeithThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Renton, Rt Hon TimThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Riddick, GrahamThorne, Neil
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasThornton, Malcolm
Ridsdale, Sir JulianThurnham, Peter
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rossi, Sir HughTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rost, PeterTracey, Richard
Rowe, AndrewTredinnick, David
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaTwinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sackville, Hon TomViggers, Peter
Sainsbury, Hon TimWaddington, Rt Hon David
Sayeed, JonathanWalden, George
Scott, Rt Hon NicholasWalker, Rt Hon P. (Wcester)
Shaw, David (Dover)Waller, Gary
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Watts, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wheeler, Sir John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Whitney, Ray
Sims, RogerWiddecombe, Ann
Skeet, Sir TrevorWiggin, Jerry
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wilshire, David
Soames, Hon NicholasWinterton, Mrs Ann
Speller, TonyWinterton, Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Wolfson, Mark
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wood, Timothy
Squire, RobinWoodcock, Dr. Mike
Stanbrook, IvorYeo, Tim
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Steen, AnthonyYounger, Rt Hon George
Stern, Michael
Stevens, Lewis

Tellers for the Noes:

Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)

Mr. Tony Durant and Mr. David Lightbown.

Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the major programme of work in the child care and child protection field which the Government are overseeing and undertaking in co-operation with local government and the voluntary sector, backed up by the Children Act 1989, which will establish an improved court system for children and a new balance between public support of children within their families and action to protect children from abuse and neglect, and families from unwarranted intrusion by the state; and welcomes other initiatives such as the reformed system of social security which targets help more effectively on the least well off among families with children.