Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009

House of Lords

Thursday, 12 February 2009.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Royal Assent

The following Act was given Royal Assent:

Banking Act 2009.

Armed Forces: Recruitment


Asked By Lord Lee of Trafford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the rising level of unemployment and the current economic circumstances have been reflected in the latest recruitment figures for the armed forces.

My Lords, recruitment to all three services has improved over the past few months, primarily as a result of targeted national, regional and local-level recruiting campaigns. There has also been a significant increase in expressions of interest through the Armed Forces recruitment offices and through online applications, which is attributed in part to the current economic circumstances and rising unemployment.

My Lords, since they came to power in 1997, the Government have presided over a 12 per cent reduction in the size of our Armed Forces. Only they believe that our troops are not overstretched. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from the British Medical Association, which states that the UK harmony guidelines work well when they are adhered to but that when they are not there is an increase in post-traumatic stress and in subsequent alcohol problems, and that what has been shown to be particularly detrimental is where the actual tour length exceeds the expectation. Does not the encouraging recruiting picture, to which the noble Lord referred, give the Government a real opportunity to right a wrong and rebuild our force levels both for obvious military advantage and, in terms of their moral responsibility, for the welfare of those who bravely and daily put their lives on the line for us?

My Lords, I will refer particularly to the harmony guidelines, which are important, and recruitment will help. Presently, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines are meeting their figure and there is a significant improvement in the Royal Air Force. The last figure we have faith in for the Army is about a 10 per cent failure. The recruitment will help but so will our commitment to the drawdown in Iraq, where we have 4,100 troops. We hope that their activities will conclude by the end of May and that they will leave Iraq by the end of July. Only a limited number of service personnel will remain in Iraq for training and administrative purposes. That will help with the harmony guidelines, which I agree is a good thing.

My Lords, the specific manning pinch points are important. There is very careful tracking of all pinch points, which are being addressed by a series of actions; namely, restructuring and reducing some of the operational commitment. We are trying to reduce the voluntary outflows through financial retention incentives, which is having a positive effect. There will also be changes in the outside world. For example, pilots are a specific pinch point and the market for pilots is not nearly as hot as it was. But they are a problem and they are being very carefully monitored to make sure that their operational impact is mitigated.

My Lords, decent salaries are crucial to successful recruitment and retention. However, what is far more important to the Armed Forces is the public recognition that decent salaries provide for them. We hold our Armed Forces in high regard, and that is reflected in those salaries. Last year the Armed Forces were singled out and awarded an above-inflation pay settlement. This was widely welcomed throughout the country. Will the Minister confirm that this year the Government will follow last year’s admirable precedent?

My Lords, it was quite nice to agree with everything the noble Lord said until he made his last point, when he asked me to pre-empt a government decision. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body will meet and make recommendations, and the Government will act in the light of those recommendations.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that while recruitment is important, the issue of the retention of middle-ranking and non-commissioned officers who are the high-quality backbone of our Armed Forces is absolutely critical? In that connection, while he mentioned the imminent reduction in numbers in Iraq, which is hoped for and would be welcomed, what remains pending is the question of further forces being assigned to Afghanistan in response to any request by the new President of the United States. Against that background, if people have to make frequent tours to Afghanistan because of shortages, that will have a serious effect on retention.

My Lords, as yet, the Government have not come to a view about changes in Afghanistan. As my noble friend Lady Taylor said last week, we are initiating a review of our Afghanistan policy. The numbers coming out of Iraq will have a significant impact on meeting the harmony guidelines. The noble Lord is right to say that frequent tours have a negative impact, but the Army is extremely cognisant of that and is working very hard, right down to the level of individual groups of soldiers, to try to mitigate the effects. The changes being made in Iraq will have a considerable positive effect.

Identity Security: Visas


Asked By Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many arrests have been made for identity forgery in the last year, following the introduction of biometric visas.

My Lords, following the introduction of biometric checks as part of the visa application process, more than 3 million sets of fingerprints have been enrolled. Checks against these biometrics have identified more than 5,246 cases of identity fraud or changes of identity. Twenty-five applicants were subsequently arrested by the police force of the host country in 2008, and one applicant so far in 2009 has been arrested.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging news. Can he confirm that without the use of biometrics, it is likely that the 5,246 individuals he mentioned would have gained entry to the United Kingdom, would have remained here illegally and possibly worked illegally as well? Does the checking of fingerprints for biometric visas identify those who have previously come to the attention of either the police or immigration officers as a result, for example, of criminal convictions or failed asylum applications?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that this does allow us to make much better checks on who we allow into the country. Indeed, in 2007 we refused 474,000 visas for a number of reasons, among which would be as a result of these checks. The reason for the small number of those who have been arrested is that we have in place strict rules in various countries around the world. We passed on 490, but those rules, known as the police referral programme, mean that we have to be sure that within each country things will be handled in a similar way to this country. We do not pass on the information willy-nilly. That is the reason for such a small number when compared with the very large number of irregularities we find. However, those irregularities can help us dramatically in that we often find people with multiple identities.

I have to say that primarily the irregularities are not based on counterterrorist reasons, but the system does have value in that regard. We know very well, for example, that al-Qaeda specifically tells its people to adopt multiple personalities. Those whom we have caught and put away in prison in this country often have up to 30 different identities, but this system absolutely stops that. They might not be who they say they are, but they cannot be anybody else because the biometrics tie down their identity.

My Lords, one of the other arms for preventing illegal immigrants and enhancing security is the e-borders programme. By what date will the full e-borders programme be implemented and what will it cost?

My Lords, I do not have that specific information with me. The plan is that there will be a 95 per cent check of everyone going in and out of this country by 2010, but I shall come back to the noble Baroness if that date has changed. The total cost of the programme has not yet been finalised. We have now got down to the last two people who are contracted for this but, again, I shall come back with the latest data for the full costs.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, whatever the costs, it is particularly good value for money?

My Lords, I agree totally with my noble friend. As I mentioned in the debate last night, for some decades we have not properly grasped the nettle of controlling our borders and immigration. That is now beginning to happen. In 1994, I think it was, we stopped counting people out of the country; we will now be counting people out and in. We will have exact details of the persons they say they are so that they cannot come in as anyone else. This will be extremely valuable. The pilot studies that we have run with some airlines flying to south Asia have already bowled out a large number of people who have done some pretty nasty things. As I say, they are not primarily terrorists but people who have done some other very unpleasant things. The pilots have been very successful. The fact that we have this clear check is very important and is no less than the people in this country would expect.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people already within the country are assuming different identities all the time? Having suffered my pocket being picked a week or so ago, the police informed me that, in London, when they have cause to arrest people for something else, these people can come up with as many as 10 different identities but the police check shows that they are all one person. The biometric visa does not help because they are already here. Does the Minister have any comment on that?

My Lords, I cannot believe that gift. This, of course, leads directly to the issue of identity cards, the great joy of which is that one will be able to tell. Again, it might not be who he actually is, but he is going to be that person on the identity card. That is who he is—bang; he will have one identity. The security measures within the identity card make it very difficult to tamper with and give some surety. Identity theft is a bad thing and we have focused on it a great deal. It reads across into e-commerce and some of the problems we have there. There has been a great rise in the number of incidents and that is one of the reasons why we need to pin down identity. As the noble Baroness rightly said, often when the police arrest someone it can take them two or three hours to establish who the person is. Again, the quicker this can be done and the matter sorted out, the better it is for people who are innocent, we catch the people who are guilty and it allows the police to get on with all the other things they should be doing.

My Lords, what arrangements, if any, are in place to monitor and control the land frontier with the Republic of Ireland?

My Lords, that is a little beyond the scope of the Question. At the moment, the land frontier is exactly the same as it has ever been. It is, indeed, as it was when I did the odd patrol on it. One of the great difficulties was making sure in which country you were. But we have no changes in mind at the moment.

My Lords, what is the situation in relation to people who have dual nationality, particularly those possessing more than one passport? Is the system being monitored to identify the people who travel in on one passport and go out on another?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point, which was raised and discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in the debate yesterday. There is clearly an issue here. It is not only a question of whether we check if more than one passport is held—we do not monitor that specifically at the moment—but whether people with our nationality should be allowed to fight for other countries’ armed forces, and what exactly is the position of people with other passports fighting for our Armed Forces. We need to look at this area. There is not a specific programme for looking it at the moment but it is something that we need to do and should do .

My Lords, how is the iris recognition system working? What percentage of people sign up for that? How satisfied are they with it?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on those specific points.

My Lords, is it not the case, as the Government have told us, that it will not be laid down that everyone must carry an identity card, even when they are introduced? If people can choose whether to have one, how will that help in the circumstance that the Minister earlier outlined?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that people will not have to carry the card with them. To go through an example, let us say that the police stop someone for some kind of offence. They will try to establish an identity, which is often involves a long debate—your Lordships might have seen the odd programme on television showing these incidents going on. They say, “Where do you live? Will you take us back there?” and they often then go back to the person’s house. One would expect to find an identity card there and the person somehow to be able to prove who they are. They should have some documentation, which, in that case, one would be able to find. That would then bowl out instantly multiple identities.

Local Authorities: Violence against Women


Asked By Baroness Howe of Idlicote

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what work they have done with local authorities on violence against women.

My Lords, local authorities form part of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which have a crucial role to play in tackling violence against women; for example, considering what more can be done to prevent sexual violence, bringing perpetrators to justice and providing services to victims.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and, indeed, for all that the Government have already done to tackle this horrendous problem. But despite this, is it not still the case that no fewer than 3 million women in the UK will have experienced violence this year, and every year, and that 25 per cent of local authorities still do not provide any women’s support services? What will the Government do to ensure that all local authorities have both the will and the resources to provide these services?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is an appalling business. I was quite horrified when looking into it to find, for example, that 24 per cent of women have apparently experienced sexual violence since the age of 16—a staggering figure—and that 5 per cent of women have been raped but only 15 per cent of them reported it to the police.

We have done a great deal to ensure that there is enough funding. Indeed, on Tuesday, the Home Secretary announced the launching of a new guide with tips on how to recognise domestic violence; a further £3.5 million to tackle interpersonal violence, including expanding the number of multi-agency risk assessment conferences; and just under £1million to support a range of domestic violence helplines.

We very much believe that we should let local authorities decide their spending as part of our commitment not to require local authorities to ring-fence funding other than for education. By 2010–11, we will have “mainstreamed”—in other words, let the local authorities use some £5.7 billion of funding as they think best. It is absolutely right that we should keep a check on whether they are looking after women at risk, and they are required to report their performance against a set of national indicators. The recent Map of Gaps report highlighted that a number of local authorities are not doing enough. We need those local authorities to let us know what they are doing with non-governmental groups. If it emerges that they are not doing anything, we need to focus on it quite specifically.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the view of many who have experience of the family jurisdiction in the courts, women’s refuge centres have achieved more in terms of protecting women and children from violence and abuse than probably all other public initiatives put together? Does he further agree that it would be most injurious to the success of those institutions if there was to be any diminution at all, even in these difficult economic circumstances, of the support that they receive?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the dynamics, particularly of domestic violence, mean that accommodation plays a vital role in resolving these issues, and there is no doubt that the provision of accommodation has made a huge difference. In 2006, for example, local housing authorities in England accepted 3,180 households that were made homeless as a result of fleeing from domestic violence. He is quite correct that the refuges are important. In 2004–05 we spent £57 million on the Supporting People programme, which provides housing for domestic violence victims. Funding increased to £59 million the following year and to £61 million in 2006–07. CLG provides a yearly homelessness prevention grant of about £47.2 million and further moneys from CLG go to the third sector. This area is crucial and the noble Lord is absolutely right: we must not let this funding go because it is so important within this area of violence.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a child who is brought up in a household that experiences domestic violence is very likely to be affected to the extent that they will leave themselves in the hands of violent men in the future? What advice is given to local authorities about dealing with the children of families that are subject to domestic violence?

My Lords, I do not know the exact details. I imagine that our sexual assault referral centres and investment in the other non-governmental groups would provide such advice. If I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing on the specifics I can let her know exactly.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government have over the past 11 years made violence against women one of our top priorities by bringing in new laws and providing additional funding? Will he comment on the Home Secretary’s announcement last week that there will be a consultation to find new ways of dealing with domestic violence, and can he say when that consultation will be launched? Can he also comment on other new initiatives launched last week, including a leaflet that seeks to help the relatives and friends of those believed to be suffering from domestic violence by giving hints, advice and support on how to help these victims? Does he agree that these leaflets should be distributed widely in supermarkets, community centres and post-natal clinics?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. We hope, subject to departmental business, to make an announcement in March on the cross-governmental initiative. As for the pamphlets, I see no reason why we should not be able to make them widely available in places such as job centres, shopping centres and so on. We will try to get them distributed as widely as possible. I entirely agree with her that this Government have a very good record on focusing on this issue, an issue which is a disgrace to a civilised nation. I am delighted with what the Government have done over past years to try to resolve it.

My Lords, what guidance do the Government give on when restraining orders should be used, as opposed to forcing women and children to flee to refuges?

My Lords, will the Government provide minimum standards for local authorities to ensure that they do have domestic abuse co-ordinators in every local authority area, as have been established in Wales, and also to ensure that there is a long-term funding commitment for the future of sexual assault referral centres which were pump-prime funded by the Home Office?

My Lords, I was asking whether minimum standards will be set for local authorities to ensure that there is a minimum standard of provision, given that there is no local authority in this country that does not have women who are subject to violence and abuse.

My Lords, I go back to my previous statement. We want to force out into local authorities the decisions on how they spend their money, but they have to report exactly what they are doing. The Map of Gaps report highlighted some of the real problems. We need to give the authorities that the report highlights the opportunity to show whether they are meeting the requirements in other ways, as I am sure some of them are. I do not believe that they would simply forget the responsibility. However, it is incumbent on us to focus on those that are not and point out what should be done. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that these things occur all over the country and through all spectrums of society, and it is important that we focus on it.

Sri Lanka


Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, in co-operation with other governments, to avert a humanitarian disaster resulting from the conflict in northern Sri Lanka.

My Lords, DfID has provided financial support of £5 million since October; £1,750,000 has already been disbursed to help meet the immediate needs of those displaced in Vanni and elsewhere. As a leading donor, DfID has taken a strategic approach to supporting those key agencies which have been able to operate effectively despite the difficulties on the ground. Most other donors are working through the UN and the ICRC. We have sent three DfID humanitarian experts to Sri Lanka to conduct an urgent reassessment of the deteriorating situation. DfID is working through the United Nations to maintain pressure on both sides, for international humanitarian law to be respected, for access to humanitarian agencies and for safe passage out of the conflict area for all civilians.

My Lords, I hope we all recognise that Britain has a very active interest in this tragedy. We have the largest Tamil population in Europe and a rather smaller Sri Lankan population. A humanitarian disaster will therefore lap over on to this country if there is a substantial flow of asylum seekers. Many of us are not partisan of either side in this dispute; it is clear that there have been serious human rights abuses on both sides. Will Her Majesty’s Government do their best with others, including Sri Lanka’s neighbours, to bring sharp pressure to bear on both sides not to use civilians as shields in a very bitter conflict?

My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord says. This is a desperately sad conflict, with some 250,000 internally displaced persons. It is absolutely right that the Government, and all Governments, should bring the maximum pressure to bear on the parties to respect international law. We recognise the importance of that. The real issue is not money, as we think that we are providing enough money, but ensuring that people respect international law—that is true of both sides—and getting access to the war zones to provide help to the affected civilians.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the real issue is between a democratically elected Government, including Tamils, and a terrorist outfit, probably the strongest in the world? Is he further aware that this morning there is a new safe zone west of Mullaitivu? The figure that I have is still huge, but the number of people involved is around 100,000 rather than a quarter of a million. Provided that the Tigers do not shoot people when they come into the new safe zone, they will be welcomed and the international community can help to look after them. However, my key question is: did Her Majesty’s Government support the statement by the Tokyo co-chairs; namely, Norway, the US, Japan and the EU? I am sorry to burden the House with this but it is very important. They,

“call on the LTTE to discuss with the Government of Sri Lanka the modalities for ending hostilities, including the laying down of arms , renunciation of violence, acceptance of the Government of Sri Lanka’s offer of amnesty; and participating as a political party in a process to achieve a just … political solution”.

Did the Government wholeheartedly support them?

My Lords, further to the Minister’s first Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, what contacts have the Government established and maintained with aid agencies in the region? As soon as it becomes possible to access the conflict area thousands of people will need urgent humanitarian aid. Do we have the logistics in place to spring into action?

My Lords, the Government have dispatched three specialists to Sri Lanka. I think that they went about three or four days ago. They are assessing the situation on the ground and will provide information to the UK about where to channel the aid. It is our view that aid should be disbursed through the people on the ground at present. They have the local knowledge and the local contacts. It is about our knowing who to support and then supporting them as soon as that possibility emerges.

My Lords, do not the suicide bombing of people who have already escaped from the enclave and the shooting of people still trying to escape show the necessity in the long run of eliminating LTTE terrorism from Sri Lanka? At the same time, will the Government urge Sri Lanka to make it clear that the doors are open to sensible, moderate Tamils to discuss the constitutional future of the country and the devolution of powers to the north and east?

My Lords, clearly the society of Sri Lanka needs to eliminate terrorism. It is a cancer in its heart and there is, as the noble Lord suggests, significant LTTE terrorism. The Government do not go as far as being very specific. They are urging, and asking the international community to join them in urging, that there must be a political solution and an understanding on all sides as to how to form a Sri Lanka for the future. Sri Lanka has the resources to be a very successful country, if only this terrible war could end.

Geert Wilders

Private Notice Question

Asked By Lord Taverne

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their justification for denying Mr Geert Wilders entry into the United Kingdom.

My Lords, under European law, a member state of the European economic area may refuse entry to a national of another EEA state if they constitute a threat to public policy, public security or public health.

My Lords, I am aware that Mr Wilders holds views highly offensive to the Muslim community, but freedom of speech issues often raise awkward questions. Indeed, this ban has united in opposition the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the Dutch Government—unusual allies—and also a section of the Muslim community which cares about freedom of expression. Does the Home Office agree that causing offence, even deep offence, to particular religious groups is no reason for compromising on the principle of freedom of expression? Why else did we repeal the laws on blasphemy? Since this is a ban on an EU citizen and Member of Parliament who has been convicted of no offence, and who has been invited to a private showing of a film in this House—not a rally in Trafalgar Square—does it not set a deeply disturbing precedent for the vital question of freedom of expression?

My Lords, the Government and I are great believers in freedom of expression. Indeed, I am constantly getting into trouble because I am too free with my expressions at times. But the decision was not based purely on the film “Fitna”, but also on a range of factors, including prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination, and other statements. The Home Secretary has to make a decision, as was said, on anyone coming in if they are a threat to public policy or public security in particular. We are constantly looking at this and are very robust about it with all sorts of extremists, from whichever corner they come. I regularly, across my desk, have to give advice to the Home Secretary about stopping people coming into this country, because I do not think it is appropriate that they should be here. I think it is good that we are being robust about this, and absolutely appropriate that the Home Secretary should have made this decision.

My Lords, there seems to be a bit of a lottery as to who is admitted and who is not. Are there any criteria by which the Home Secretary works, even if advised by the noble Lord, to justify who is refused admittance and who is not?

My Lords, there is effectively a list of things the Home Secretary will check through when she is making a decision about whether someone should be allowed into this country. Of course, as the House will well know, quite often we will say that someone should not come into this country, but they then appeal and, through our judicial system, it is decided that they should be allowed to do so. One of the great strengths and joys of this country is that there is a very robust approach to these things. Sometimes, it surprises many of us that that person is allowed to come in and continue to say things—that seems very strange, whatever persuasion they come from. There is a list, and it is checked through. As I said, the Home Secretary thought long and hard about this. The decision was based on a whole raft of things, not just on this film. I believe that it was the correct decision.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for asking this Question. I suggest to the Minister—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. I only have one question, because I know that we do not want to spend long on this. Does the noble Lord think that this situation would have occurred if Mr Wilders had said, “Ban the Bible”? If it would not have occurred, why not? Surely, the violence and the disturbance that may arise from showing this film in this country is not caused by the film, which merely attempts to show how the violent Islamist uses the Koran to perpetrate his terrible acts, but by the jihadist, the violent Islamist. In doing what the Government have done, surely they are therefore guilty of appeasement.

My Lords, I certainly do not think that we are guilty of appeasement in any way whatever. I do not want to go down the route of discussing a hypothetical case about what if he had talked about this or that. I am afraid that I am rather constrained about exactly what I can say about him. He is under prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination. Clearly, anything that I say in this House could become involved in that, and I would not wish that to happen. It would be wrong if that was the case. Also, he can appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision, and anything that I say could be used there.

As I said, we are very robust across the board. We take no sides on this. We treat people whom we believe are a threat to the security and safety of this nation in exactly the same way, from whatever cloth they come; that is extremely important. I believe that this was the right decision.

My Lords, the Minister has talked about incitement, and reference has been made to the possibility of counterprotests. These are public order matters. The criterion that the Minister should be operating under is public security, which is a different thing.

My Lords, again, I really cannot go too far down this route. These things will be looked at in the Court of Appeal and in the court of another nation. I do not wish to go down this route; I think that it would be wrong for me to do so.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on one matter, which might enable us to make up our minds? Who brought this matter to the attention of the Home Secretary? Since this man is an EU citizen, he does not have to apply specially to come to our country. How did this become a matter of public policy?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer to that question, because I am not quite sure how it came to the attention of the Home Secretary. I was first aware of this about a week ago. I do not know the answer. Perhaps I can write to my noble friend when I can discover the answer.

My Lords, 20 years ago, the Government were robust in their defence of Mr Salman Rushdie when he published the book The Satanic Verses. This book provoked a number of riots and demonstrations, as we all know, and some violence within the community. Nevertheless, the Government remained steadfast in their defence on a free-speech basis. What has changed?

My Lords, I do not think that anything has changed. There is a difference in that I think Salman Rushdie was based in this country when he was writing his book. I am sure that other factors are involved. If today he was writing things that we felt were going to cause a real problem—I have to be careful here because we are going into hypothetical areas—we would be as robust. We are robust, as I said, whatever people’s cloth, if we believe it is something that goes beyond just having an extreme view. Of course people can have extreme views. I am sure that all of us have views about things that no one would challenge although we might not agree with them; those are things that one is allowed to have. This is a step beyond. As I say, I do not want to talk in full detail about this. It is to do with a whole range of factors, including Geert Wilders’ prosecution and other statements. I think that it was the correct decision.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister has looked at precedent. Will he please tell us the last time that a democratically elected politician from an EU country was denied access to Great Britain and the last time that a democratically elected politician was denied access to speak in this House?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that. I shall have to come back to the noble Lord in writing, if I may. I do not like making excuses, but I was aware of this Question only about 23 minutes ago and there were two Questions in between. I feel rather like Eugene Esmonde, who, 67 years ago today, flew a few Swordfish at the “Gneisenau”, “Scharnhorst” and “Prinz Eugen”; he got a VC for doing it but, sadly, he was lost. I feel that I am similarly stepping into the breach; I do not know the answer and I will get back to the noble Lord in writing.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in a democracy, there will always be people who will not have the electoral outcome of their choice? Does he also accept that those people, too, have the right to hold their views, unpalatable though they might be, and that it is not the role of government and public policy to gag them?

My Lords, I agree with that. As I say, there was a whole number of factors in this case which the Home Secretary took into account and I believe that she made the right decision, but I agree with the noble Baroness.

My Lords, is not the essence of this public order? There is a raft of considerations, but the essence is public order. One cannot ask for a reply because it was a decision of the Home Secretary and one really has to leave it at that. What else can one do?

My Lords, I think that it is correct that one can question these things on the Floor of this House. It is difficult to go into detail at the moment because this is subject to a lot of legal issues, but I say again that I believe that the Home Secretary has made the right decision in this case. As for what happens in this House, that is a matter for the House authorities and not for the Home Secretary.

My Lords, in response to the question put by my noble friend Lady Hanham, I understood the Minister to say that the Home Secretary responded—

My Lords, I draw attention to the Companion, in which it is clear that Private Notice Questions are not intended to take longer than 10 minutes.

Unit Trusts (Electronic Communications) Order 2009

Open-Ended Investment Companies (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Mutual Societies (Transfers) Order 2009

Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (Audit of Non-profit-making Companies) Order 2009

Child Trust Funds (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2009

Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 2009

Contracting Out (Highway Functions) Order 2009

Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009

Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Registration of Regulated Activities) Regulations 2009

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

To move that the draft orders and regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business


Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat the Statement on investment in new trains immediately after the debate in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.

Children: Good Childhood Inquiry Report


Moved By The Lord Bishop of Leicester

To call attention to the publication of the Good Childhood Inquiry report; and to move for papers.

My Lords, the very day of the launch of the report of the Good Childhood Inquiry coincided last week with London’s heaviest snowfall for 18 years. By an unexpected coincidence, as the report drew attention to the need for adults to consider more carefully the consequences of their values, priorities and lifestyles for the development of children, so, in our parks, playgrounds and gardens, many people were finding, for one brief day, what it meant to set aside their normal routines, and the sound of laughter and play could be heard in the streets and neighbourhoods of much of England. That coincidence, neither planned nor intended, had the effect of raising for all of us the central question of the inquiry: what does it take for us to create the conditions in which the power for good in children and their extraordinary potential can flourish? What does it take for us to recognise the obstacles to their flourishing and to find the resources of mind and spirit to overcome them?

I am proud to declare an interest in the debate today. I am the chair of the trustees of the Children’s Society, which launched the inquiry in 2006, bringing together an independent panel of experts to consider the conditions for a good childhood in the 21st century and to make recommendations for ensuring that those conditions are achieved for all children.

I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, for his immense contribution to this report as its principal author, and delighted that he will be contributing to the debate today. The whole panel of inquiry was delighted to engage with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury as patron, and is grateful for his incisive afterword to the report and his presence here.

Most of all, however, we benefited from the contributions of some 30,000 people who gave evidence to the inquiry and, among them, over 10,000 children. They took part in polls, research and focus groups. They responded via the BBC “Newsround” programme and included children from all walks of life, including those in prison, pupil referral units and early years settings, as well as refugee children and disabled children. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this report merits attention because, above all, it gives a voice to the hopes, concerns and longings of those children.

One of those giving evidence in person to the panel was Adam, now aged 20. After being taken into care at a young age, he was moved from one residential home to another. After multiple failures, he was taken into foster care. Eventually, at age 14 he began the first of three sentences in prison. On hearing his story, a panel member asked him whether there was anyone in his life who meant something to him. He replied that the only person he could think of was his independent visitor—someone to talk to, someone to help him navigate choices and prepare for his release. Adam explained that he neither requested nor wanted this person. He initially used every trick he could think of to make the visitor leave and never return. It did not work. For the first time in his life, he had met someone who would not give up on him—who, regardless of his treatment and rejection would come back week after week. So began a transformation, the first constructive and positive relationship with an adult that he had ever had. Now, after six years, this relationship forms a critical and unique source of stability.

This is the closest approximation to an experience of love in Adam’s life. It is love that children and young people see as the most fundamental requirement of a good life. Our children are clear that the foundation for a good childhood is rooted in their experiences of primary, living attachments with their parents and significant adults. This report identified key factors which put pressure on those relationships. It asks why society has become tone-deaf to those most fundamental requirements of children, and why words like “love”, “happiness” and “stability” have become eroded for many adults in achieving life-giving relationships with others.

The cause of this erosion, says the report, is excessive individualism, which it defines as,

“the belief … that the prime of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others”.

The evidence is clear. There has been an erosion of trust, 29 per cent believing that most people can be trusted compared to 56 per cent in Britain 40 years ago. Similar, dramatic evidence points to a decline in a sense of collective moral values and a decline in a sense of community.

What are the consequences of this excessive individualism? This is an ambitious report. Its horizons and range are wide. I know that other noble Lords with an impressive range of expertise here this morning will discuss other aspects of the recommendations, including what is said here about schooling, advertising, lifestyles and mental health, among other things. However, I shall briefly draw attention to some of the key findings that support the central thesis, such as the fact that the proportion of children experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties rose from 10 per cent in 1986 to 16 per cent in 1999, and has remained at that level. Some 70 per cent of children agree that parents getting on well is one of the most important factors in raising happy children but, by contrast, only 30 per cent of parents agreed with that statement—a significant difference of perspective. Only a quarter of the children who are seriously disturbed by mental health difficulties get any kind of specialist help. Increased exposure to television and internet measurably increases materialistic attitudes and reduces mental health. Children who spend 18 hours taking a resilience programme which teaches them to manage their own feelings and how to understand and care for others are half as likely to experience depression over the next three years, and do better academically. Britain and the United States are more unequal than any other advanced countries and have lower average well-being among their children.

I mention one other finding of the report which has attracted considerable attention and controversy: namely, that children with step-parents or a single parent appear to be, on average, more likely to suffer short-term problems with academic achievement, self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Whether welcomed or criticised, it is clear that this report has attracted widespread attention. Some reporting has focused on the potential impact of family separation on children. Indeed, some commentators have interpreted this as a condemnation of single mothers. The fact is, the report recognises that where there are high levels of conflict among adults, it may be in the best interests of the child for a separation to take place. Further, not all single-parent households are the result of separation. The critical factor has to do with how we support families who get into these difficulties. That is why the report recommends making family counselling and support services much more easily available. However, it makes no apology for pointing to some of the hard truths about the rapid changes in employment patterns in the past 25 years and the difficulties which these can raise for some of our children.

Others among the commentators have questioned whether a report sponsored by the Children’s Society, with its clear Christian roots, adequately articulates a Christian vision for society. That was not our primary purpose, but those who look for such a vision will see it in the report’s conclusions: that parents should make a long-term commitment to each other; that the decline of religious belief in social obligations means less confidence in communal values; that children need opportunities to develop spiritual qualities. Here we can find a clear echo of the values of the Christian tradition as well as of the other great world faiths.

The report, in response to these issues, makes a number of specific recommendations, but in the time that I have remaining I want to highlight two urgent priorities. The first relates to inequality. It is now widely understood that after the United States, Britain is the most unequal of the rich countries. In Britain, 22 per cent of children are below 60 per cent of typical income, in contrast with only 13 per cent 30 years ago. Combinations of inequalities can have a drastic effect on children’s life chances. Research has shown that a young person aged 13 or 14 experiencing five or more problems in the family, such as mental health problems, physical disability, substance misuse, domestic violence, financial stress, neither parent in work, teenage parenthood, poor basic skills and living in poor housing conditions, is 36 times more likely to enter the care system or to have contact with the police.

The Children’s Society is a founding member of the End Child Poverty campaign and is committed to supporting the government target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010. This requires significant and immediate investment. The 2009 Budget offers the last realistic opportunity to reconnect to the 2010 target, requiring an investment of £3 billion.

As recession bites ever deeper, most financial crisis meetings now take place not in boardrooms, but around kitchen tables. The financial crisis that poor families constantly struggle with comes at a tremendous cost to all of us. Recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation research reveals that the economic costs of educational failure, health inequality, disability and social breakdown from child poverty are more than £25 billion per year to the economy, or more than £1,000 per household. There cannot, therefore, be a choice between rescuing the economy and rescuing children from poverty. Fiscal stimulus, delivered through poor families, using tax credits and child benefits, is morally right and economically prudent, since the money delivered in this way will be spent immediately by families on their children’s needs, boosting the economy at its grass roots.

The second recommendation to which I want to draw attention relates to the question of collective responsibility. Children learn their behaviours and their values from those around them. An important example is alcohol consumption. The report’s chapter on lifestyles highlights excessive alcohol as a very serious threat to young people’s well-being. This is widely understood, and the publication by the Chief Medical Officer of guidelines for parents on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people was a welcome move. However, in the media reporting, scant attention was paid to the example set for children who see many adults regularly drinking significantly more than the recommended daily amounts.

This corroborates another central theme of the report—that we remain an essentially adult-centred society in which the response to many of the challenges of the report tends to centre on the question: how does this proposal affect our understanding of the good adulthood, rather than what contributes to the good childhood? So there is much in the report about parents, who carry the greatest responsibility for our children. This is rightly described as an “awesome responsibility” requiring a long-term commitment by the parents to each other, as well as to the welfare of the child. It requires that before the child is born, parenting classes should ensure that the parents be informed of what is involved in bringing up the child.

Time does not permit me to touch on many of the other recommendations in the report, which I hope will repay your Lordships’ careful study. We were all taken aback two years ago by the UNICEF report, showing that children in Britain and the United States face a much more difficult world than those in continental Europe. This report attempts to explain why that may be so and points to some remedies. Its central thesis is that a society for whom the acquisition of wealth, property and personal status has become the primary focus has led to damaged childhoods, damaged relationships and communities, anxiety and stress for children in an overcompetitive educational system. In the midst of very difficult economic times, we have an opportunity to rebuild our financial health in ways that create a society that is better fitted for children, who are our sacred trust.

Many noble Lords will be familiar with the anonymous verses which distil so tellingly the influences which make a child, but they bear brief repetition:

“If a child lives with criticism

he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility

he learns to fight …

If a child lives with shame

he learns to feel guilty …

If a child lives with security

he learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval

he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship

he learns to find love in the world”.

If this report contributes to the discovery of that love for our children who most desperately need it, it will not have been a labour in vain, and it will have made a worthy contribution to the society we all want to build.

My Lords, I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has secured this debate. He introduced it with humility but passion, and I agree with much of what he said. As a humanist, however, I maintain that spirituality, morality and values are not limited to religious faith but apply to our human condition. However, the right reverend Prelate has given us the opportunity to discuss matters related to children, at which this House is extremely good. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

I welcome the report as a platform for debate, as the right reverend Prelate said, and I salute those who had the difficult task of putting the inquiry together. I also salute my noble friend Lord Layard not only for his work on the book but for his dedication to insisting that material well-being is not the sole aim of life and may have distracted us from other important qualities.

Now comes the “however”. I am disappointed in some aspects of the report. People’s circumstances affect the way that they see life and they affect their values. Society has to sort out much that is practical before people can be happy, decide about their values and relate successfully to others. I agree that children need both “inner and outer harmony”, but I have difficulty with the statement at the beginning of the report that,

“outer harmony comes from a spirit of giving, and inner self-worth makes getting less of an imperative”.

Tell that to the single grandparent trying to bring up her daughter’s children because the daughter has died of a drug overdose. Most people, I think, have to be reasonably happy before they can help others to be happy. This is not about selfishness; it is about having the resources, internal and external, to be content with one’s life.

When I say that we have to sort out practical issues, I am not just talking about poverty. Many children have been brought up in poverty and have gone on to succeed in all kinds of ways but, as the book points out, many more do live in relative poverty in Britain and the United States. We are also less mobile; we have family break-up in all classes; and there are exam pressures on children. “Excessive individualism” is identified as being at the root of all the problems, but I find that too simplistic a concept. The report talks about children and working parents, and the choice of staying at home, but later in the book is the statement:

“To cut child poverty, three main factors are involved. The first is whether the parents work”.

We really cannot have it both ways. I am totally sympathetic to the need for, ideally, two parents. Child rearing is a tough job, needing, I think, at least 2.5 parents. I totally agree with the need for a child to have a secure attachment with at least one person, and to be loved, encouraged and supported in what psychologists have called “unconditional love”, well described by the right reverend Prelate. However, this does not apply just to childhood. Having unhappy or unemployed parents is not ideal. People have to have some basic security to parent well.

We do not need more declarations making women feel guilty about working and having childcare for their children. And they do feel guilty—ask any working mum. Many work not because they have to but because they enjoy their job and are fearful of what might happen if they have a career break. What they need is reassurance that their child is being well cared for and is forming healthy attachments. This is not selfishness. Happy and fulfilled parents make for happy children.

A child should never suffer violence or abuse in the home. The report says on page 31:

“If parents are in conflict, children should tell them how this impacts on them”.

However, I think that that will nearly always be unrealistic. In fact, if I may say so, it is breathtakingly naive. Children may need mediation. Families in difficulty need support, which is recognised in the book. Some children will not be able to live with their parents and the inquiry is right, of course, in saying that the professionals dealing with those children must be well trained and able to supply the emotional support that has been lacking in these disrupted and damaged lives.

These problems will not be sorted out by personal, social and health education in schools, by social and emotional learning programmes, or by the excellent UNICEF Rights Respecting School programme. The problems are too deep seated. I am a great supporter of such programmes, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who may say more about this. I have often spoken about the need for them to be statutory. But for some children, the damage is severe and needs sustained intervention.

I was disappointed to see so little reference to children in substantial difficulty, such as disabled children, those with special educational needs, young carers, immigrant and asylum seeking children. Children in custody are referred to on page 145. There is a call to help them earlier and to give them the care that all children deserve. They are indeed damaged and needy children, many of whom have gone through our care system. Custody should be the last resort. In the recommendations to this chapter, I should have liked to see a strong call for early intervention for children in difficulty. Children can often identify tipping points in their lives, such as a death, abuse or a failure. This is when we should catch them, which is promoted by many reports, including the excellent report from the UK children’s commissioners published last year.

I cite these examples to reinforce my earlier point that children and families need practical support—some more than others. Numerous reports and recommendations have come from government and other organisations, including the very strong and dedicated voluntary sector, in the past few years. Many have been referred to in the inquiry. Two government reports—these are only two examples among many—suggest ways of helping families and young people to live in harmony and to achieve. The reports are full of references to the importance of values, relationships and collaboration. The 10-year children plan from the DCSF in 2007 suggests practical ways of delivering services for all children and families, for example, through children’s trusts, local safeguarding boards, personalised teaching and learning, extended schools, and so on. The report Aiming High for Young People discusses characteristics of successful provision. We should focus on what works for families. If children and families have real help, maybe we can achieve what so many reports call for: a better society and better treatment of children. Programmes such as Sure Start and the nurse-family partnerships have produced evidence of what works for parents and children.

Does the Minister agree that we need practical solutions to help families and children, as well as values? Will she say what policies and programmes provide those practical solutions and talk about the family intervention programmes which I believe are already showing positive outcomes?

I may have appeared somewhat negative about this inquiry. I am not. I think that it could have gone further, and could have been more precise in its examples and recommendations, but I am sincerely glad that it has been produced and am delighted that we have had the opportunity to discuss it today.

My Lords, this is a most welcome report and I thank all those who gave and took evidence on which it was based. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing the debate today, thereby giving us the opportunity to discuss the issues raised in the report.

None of the recommendations is comfortable. Some demand attitudinal changes towards children; some require government intervention; and some have large financial implications. My concerns reflect on the importance of family life, the need for community involvement, factors that can mar a child’s progress to adulthood and the demands placed on them before they reach maturity.

The report is clear. Families vary greatly in their structure but the principles of loving care are the same in any family in any culture—good physical care, unconditional love and clear boundaries for behaviour. I was particularly glad that that was included in the report. It also stated that 60 per cent of women giving birth are married, 25 per cent are cohabiting and 15 per cent are on their own. Lone mothers are perfectly well able to love and care for their children but it is more difficult and more tiring without a partner to help. Above all, children who are daily exposed to a loving, caring relationship between mother and father will absorb the values of sharing, forbearance, support, loyalty and many others.

To make matters even more complicated, there are sizeable numbers of young adults who want a family of their own but lack the knowledge to create a family atmosphere for their children. This fact has long existed and been recognised by a variety of communities that have worked to assist young parents. I am reminded of Margaret Harrison who, many years ago, founded Home-Start in Leicester, whose cause went on to be taken up elsewhere. One family befriended another to ensure a ration of shared play in addition to the daily chores, which was a help to the struggling family. It is equally true that families that live in poor housing often have poor health and additional problems. The report recognises that:

“Children, above all, need to be loved. Unless they are loved they will not feel good about themselves and will, in turn, find it difficult to love others”.

Support from the extended family can be an enormous help. Relationships with other children and their grandparents and interaction with cousins and siblings can add profoundly to a lifelong sense of well-being.

The section on friends struck a chord with me. I am sure that we all have memories of friends we met in our early lives and an awareness of the impact they had on us. Many families today are heavily influenced by the national emphasis on child safety and are consequently concerned about the degree of freedom they ought to allow their young children. As the report states, we should ensure that there are adequate places for children to play safely or make friends for themselves in the wider community. In that connection, I should declare an interest as president of the Leicestershire Clubs for Young People and take the opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers and professionals who run youth clubs, and there are many like them throughout the country. Through these clubs, young people find new friends, gain confidence, progress to further education and training.

Schools affect all children. I believe that for the overwhelming majority they provide a positive experience. Some of them stand in loco parentis for up to 12 hours a day offering, as they do, breakfast clubs, homework clubs and a range of after-school activities. All of these may be crucial to the well-being of some children, and I am extremely grateful for the dedication of teachers, other school staff and governors. I fear, however, that we are approaching the point where schools cannot and must not be expected to take on responsibilities that should be undertaken by families. In particular, we cannot expect them to compensate for the lack of a family life, the break-up of marriages or regular discord at home. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate referred to the effect that seeing parents getting on well has on children. I do not know whether the survey analysed how many mothers and fathers disagreed with the statement. However, I suspect that some of the dissenters were expressing their own lack of self-esteem. None the less, the discrepancy indicates that parents are too often unaware of the effect that their behaviour has on their children and that the ideas and attitudes that children absorb in their youth are often carried with them for the rest of their life.

I cannot finish without mentioning those inspiring young children who care for other members of their family on a long-term basis. Children as young as seven and up to those studying for A-levels look after parents or siblings who are disabled, long-term sick, suffering from alcohol or drug addiction or terminally ill. They cook, shop, clean, give encouragement and take on responsibilities way beyond their years. They need to be appreciated and helped. They do not need to be patronised, told what to do or bureaucratised.

In some respects they could, I suppose, be accused of being too close to their families, while at the other end of the spectrum there are those who no longer live with their family but are fostered. Families who are foster carers are very special. The parents take in youngsters whose attitude is very often not one of gratitude, and the children of the family accept them and share with strangers not only their favourite toys and the family pets but their parents too. Those taken in may move to live in with strangers twice or 10 times in a relatively short life. They may have abandoned all attempts to adjust to a new set of values, a new way of living and a whole new menu.

Yet it is those precarious ventures that often succeed. It may be that success at school eludes foster children, but there are countless examples of grown men and women living a happy, useful and fulfilled life today who are a real credit to those foster mums and dads. I agree that we should help those young people in every way possible; that we should support foster parents in the service that they give; and that we should assist our schools to provide any extras that may be necessary. I question the statement in the report that we should condemn them because their exam pass rate at 16 does not meet some arbitrary target.

The report is an outstanding piece of work. It makes 41 recommendations. In an ideal world, we would expect every child to have a good upbringing, a good start. I fear that it is not possible to achieve that and the report’s recommendations should be studied in that light. Our challenge is to take on board some of the recommendations and to make it work for children and the overall benefit of society.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Layard, on his part in producing the report A Good Childhood. It comes at a time of other relevant thought and activity about children’s well-being. UNICEF is urging the UK to incorporate into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has started the Rights Respecting Schools award, which has had some good results, as the noble Baroness mentioned. There has also been the launch of Family Week. From all sides, voices are speaking up for children and becoming more insistent.

Professor Judy Dunn, who chaired the inquiry, made clear at the launch that the book was intentionally short so that more people would read it. It has succeeded in that, but its findings are given great authority by the expertise and standing of the individuals and organisations that contributed to the final report and the extensive contributions from children themselves. Noble Lords will raise many different aspects of the report, but I shall restrict my remarks to a few of its findings. The first is the matter of family relationships—complex indeed. It refers to the golden days that never existed. One such stereotype was to be found in the Ladybird Early Reader books, where Peter and his father tinkered with the car in the garage while Jane and her mother baked cakes in the kitchen. Then they all went for a healthy walk with Pat the dog.

Fifty years ago, there were families that fell constantly into those conventions: the father the breadwinner, the mother the homemaker. Social pressures and employment practices made it harder not to conform, but for many in those days they were far from perfect circumstances and the conventions were deeply uncomfortable. In the past century, there were many examples of single-parent families. The two world wars left women bringing up children on their own where they had no choice in the matter, often combining parenting with work out of necessity, social demand or choice. If they had not been married to the father, they may also have contended with social disdain and lack of support from the community. However, that generation of children was not notably dysfunctional.

Today single parents are an accepted part of society. As the report indicates, we are much more tolerant of diverse lifestyles, and there are certainly benefits in that tolerance but, at the same time, many of the conventional strengths of community have been eroded, leading to the lack of respect and the damaging excessive individualism set out in the report, where people become more self-centred in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment rather than for the greater good and the good of their children.

The term “working mother” has seemed to me tautologous ever since my days as a non-working mother, when the joy of parenthood also meant days of 24-hour responsibility. It was perhaps inevitable that the media would pick up those parts of the report that appeared critical of mothers who go back to work. I was pleased to see that yesterday Professor Dunn responded in a letter to the Guardian. She emphasised that the report did not suggest that mothers ought not to go out to work. Indeed, the report places emphasis on love and care. It states:

“Crucial are the warmth, understanding, interest and firmness which parents bring to their relationship with their child”.

In order to help parents of the future, there are some excellent recommendations, which start in school. We on these Benches have argued the case for personal, social and health education to be a key part of the school curriculum. It is encouraging that this is now accepted as it provides material for children to learn, to understand themselves and their relationship with others, to build confidence in their ability to make a positive contribution to society and to feel good about it. It is hoped that in due course that will spill through into the children themselves becoming parents. We would encourage the Government to promote the training and appointment of specialist PSHE teachers as rapidly as possible.

Learning should be exciting, and testing is part of ensuring that young people have learnt; but league tables have moved testing into costly and damaging areas. Some years ago, I was at a presentation by the head of a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties. He talked of the dedication of the staff, the efforts of the pupils and the small achievements which meant so much. He said that the worst day of the year was the day of the publication of the league tables. With grim inevitability, his school would be at the bottom. The morale of staff and parents plummeted.

I was reminded of this yesterday on a visit to Treloars school and college, which provides for 300 severely physically disabled young people. It is inspirational to see dedicated staff and positive young people determined to achieve against immense challenges. Many will go on to gain GCSEs and NVQs, and will go on to college and university. But for many, success will lie in mastering some form of non-verbal communication and manipulating their wheelchairs around the corridors. What possible relevance are league tables to schools like this?

Not everything of value can be measured. The amount of time and money currently spent on formal, external tests and assessments has seriously undermined resources which could be better spent on motivating and encouraging young people. How heartily we support the report’s assertion:

“Education should never be synonymous with teaching to the test”.

This report has gathered immense amounts of evidence and has subjected it to intense analysis. The difficult financial times ahead may give an impetus to review what really matters in life and how the next generation can best be taught to manage changing circumstances. Adjusting to having fewer belongings will pose more of a problem to this generation, who often confuse having material possessions with being a worthwhile person.

The inquiry concludes:

“This ought to be a time of hope for children in Britain”.

The recommendations make thought-provoking reading and give clear and simple guidance to different target groups. We hope that each of those groups, and the Government, will consider the matters that refer to them and will take action.

My Lords, I am very happy to declare an interest both as vice-president of the Children’s Society and as patron of this inquiry. I am delighted that my right reverend brother has secured this debate.

The report paints a very sobering picture of a society that has become clumsy and neglectful in the priority it gives to the central task of civilised humanity: the task of inducting children into a responsible and fulfilling life. That being said, however, the report is not an apocalyptic document. It does not simply paint a picture of a society ravaged by feral youngsters, and it does not, despite some versions of it in the press, seek to find scapegoats for all problems. The aim of its analysis is not to find one simple root cause for the problems currently surrounding childhood in our society but to identify a “climate” in very broad terms—specifically a climate, as we heard, of individualism, but not only that. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that simply to speak of individualism is a simplistic strategy in this context. However, I think that we need to take into consideration, alongside issues around our attitudes to the individual, attitudes that also have to do with our short-term perspective on decision-making. This is perhaps a rather timely observation given our financial straits, but I pass hastily over that.

When we make choices, we make choices that have a cost. We like to avoid the awareness of that cost; none the less, it will not go away. No choice fails to bring some sort of cost, and if cultural and economic factors press us towards certain choices rather than others, the costs remain. And that, I believe, is the essence of what is being said about patterns of work among parents. Cultural factors make it desirable and natural for women to seek fulfilling work. Economic factors, as we have been reminded, make it desirable and sometimes necessary for a family to think of two working parents. Those are moral and reputable choices but their moral and reputable character does not remove the cost. The question, therefore, is not where we apportion blame but how we are to look long and hard at those things that offset the cost. The report suggests that we have barely begun to do this effectively in terms both of our attitudes to paid work in our society and our attitudes to the professionalism demanded in childcare.

Attitudes to working practices are a very significant and troubling dimension of our life in society today. We all know how heavily work presses upon those in employment, and we know the demands that can be made on working mothers and fathers in ways that are deeply detrimental to family life. But we also have a deficit in many of our attitudes to the status of those who work specifically with children. I wish to pass on briefly to think about some of the issues that surround this question. The report notes the undeniable fact that those working in education and in mental health care with the young are often poorly paid, inadequately resourced and seriously undervalued in our society overall. Perhaps I may be permitted to spend a little time on these two areas.

Chapter 7 of the report repeats the now quite familiar statistics on the levels of young people’s mental health, the decline of those levels during the 1980s and 1990s, the relative stasis since then, but the lack of any improvement. The point is not the trivial one that one in 10 young people is unhappy but the far more serious point that this significant percentage suffers from serious, diagnosable, treatable mental health problems. The report also notes that only 25 per cent of them gain the right kind of specialised help. The report calls for an integrated approach to the mental health of young people involving both schools and the care system. It calls for training in the recognition of mental health problems, for professional assessment as a priority and, therefore, for evidence-based treatment as the way forward. All of these points seem to me to be of the greatest importance as we look at what children’s mental health requires in our society.

There is an implied point here about the professionalism of those who work in this area—not that it is poor at the moment, but that it could be better and more extensive—and the urgent need for more workers. A specific call is made for a five-year programme to train 1,000 more child therapists. I hope to hear from the government Benches their sympathy for this proposal. I also underline the need for a fair and proper regional spread of such provision, and I do so having in mind a painful conversation last weekend with a friend from west Wales who described the dire situation of mental health care for young people in the area.

This of course spills over into the broader area of issues around schooling and the causes of stress in our schools. I note another specific recommendation here, already mentioned by a previous speaker, which has to do with testing in schools. The report observes that, sadly, testing is frequently oriented towards what we might unkindly call PR and marketing rather than to feedback for those most deeply involved: the children themselves. The demand made in the report that testing should always have a strictly educational purpose through feedback is one that I hope will be weighed very carefully. There is also some significant material about the payment of teachers and also about apprenticeship schemes as a way of releasing the energy and creativity of young people. A request is made for government guarantees about apprenticeship schemes, and once again I shall be delighted to hear a response to this. Already some schools are running imaginative projects in this area. Some months ago I was privileged to visit a church secondary school on the south coast, in a deprived area of Eastbourne, which had devised an extremely imaginative project whereby early school leavers were encouraged to return to the school part-time to study for their A-levels while being trained in various IT skills.

Mental health and education are just a couple of aspects of a very rich report, and to focus on them illustrates the level of failure in our society to give value and priority to the work of forming adult personalities by the way in which we engage with our children. But to form adult personalities means that we must first take children seriously as children, not simply as embryo adults. That means listening to them and taking very seriously their own account of their needs and their problems. One of the great strengths of this report is that it seeks to do just that.

The dimension of religious faith and spirituality has already been mentioned in this debate. To develop a sensible, creative, celebratory attitude to our children requires at the very least a vision of what human maturity looks like, and a sense of the absolute imperative of creative care, not merely protective care, for the growing and the vulnerable. Religious faith may not be the only source from which such a vision comes but it is a crucially important one both individually and socially. Above all, if I may speak here as a Christian, the Gospels’ injunction to take example from children is one of the strongest possible cultural incentives to look with pleasure, with gratitude and with eagerness towards our young people. Very little except such a perspective can break through the mixed climate of fear and dislike which sadly seems to surround so much of our perception of young people, at least as reflected in the media. This report is a crucial step towards breaking through that sad stereotype towards a more celebratory and more creative approach.

My Lords, it is extremely difficult to follow immediately on from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and particularly on his devoted service to the Children’s Society. I would also like to thank him for giving me a copy of the excellent report and his instruction that I was to speak today—so I have obeyed. It is sad that this report echoes and amplifies in an authoritative way the report of the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the report last year of the UNCRC itself. I would like to make three points from my own experience as a former judge, and I declare an interest as a patron, governor or other similar position in a considerable number of charities, notably Coram, One Plus One, Childhood First and the NSPCC.

The first point concerns the value of marriage, and I think it is time that that is said. I am biased in favour of marriage, having just had 50 years of it and still surviving. Statistics show that marriages, despite the high divorce rate, last longer than other relationships. Cohabitation has a poor track record from the point of view of its sticking ability. The best for children, as is said in the report, is to be part of a stable, secure, loving family with preferably two parents offering two role models, male and female. This is not to decry the single-parent family, two parents of the same sex, or indeed step-parents. Many children blossom in such family upbringings, but it is not the best. The points made in the report about love, moral values, the respect of parents for their children and the respect of children for their parents and other adults, and the importance of authoritative parenting are crucial aspects of a good family.

My second point is about the effects of the separation of parents upon their children. Children are not concerned about the marriage lines; they usually love and want both their parents. When parents separate, most of them are concerned about the welfare arrangements for their children but often overlook the children themselves as people with worries who need to be given the facts, and with the right at least to know what is going on. Often children have no idea what is going on when their parents separate and after their parents have separated. There is a widespread lack of knowledge, which is totally unacceptable for children.

Children also have the right in many situations at least to be consulted about their future, although not, of course, for that to be determinative. I make a small but important point for parents: do not arrange access at the time of football practice or matches unless the non-residential parent is going to attend them.

Changes are inevitable—home, parents, siblings, school, loss of friends—and this all leads to a degree of insecurity. In a small but significant minority of parents, all too well known to me when I was a judge, the corrosion of a broken relationship and the acrimony between them results in endless court proceedings, where the parents fight their unresolved conflicts in battles over the children. I sometimes think that the last person who ought to be allowed to care for the children is one of the parents in this conflict. Anyone else would be better for them.

But even without parental disputes there can, none the less, be adverse effects on the children which can be short, medium and sometimes long term. Where there are disputes between the parents, the effect can be very damaging and long lasting. Adults whose parents have divorced sometimes have a fear of making long-term commitments and enter into the danger of repeating the mistakes of their parents, with the inevitable unhappy consequences for the next generation of children.

On the issue of instruction in parenting, particularly before having children, which is mentioned in the report, it is important to have mediation between parents intending to separate and conciliation at the door of the court where their applications for residence and contact is to be heard. All of this can be extremely successful. There also needs to be a widespread recognition by mothers—I speak as a mother and a grandmother—of the love and need of the children for the father as well as the mother. Fathers remain seriously underestimated.

My third point is about offending children. We are said to be as a country—I fear I believe it to be true—less than caring about children in our society. We are censorious, our policy towards offending children is punitive and the press portray children as evil. The Bulger murderers were 10 when they killed the Bulger child. When they were aged 12, one of the major newspapers carried a cut-out coupon asking, “Do you want these children to rot in jail for the rest of their lives?”—and 80,000 people replied to the coupon saying yes.

We lock up more children than anywhere else in Europe. This has been said again and again but it needs to go on being said. Our criminal system is designed to deal with the consequences of juvenile offending, not the causes. One chief constable is quoted as saying about gangs that the police cannot cope alone—that there had to be a change of emphasis by society. We know that the gang culture is intimidating to the public and scary for the individual, but some children grow up in an atmosphere of mental health problems, drink, drugs and violence between the parents, where they are not loved, cared for or troubled about; they are in an uncaring family. They are probably excluded from school. They may go into care and often will be moved many times because, predictably, they do not settle. The worst case I know about was a child who was moved 40 times and who, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, ended up in a therapeutic community. He was extremely lucky to get there.

For some of these children the gang is the only family, support and relationship they may know. Of course seriously offending young people have to be dealt with and the public have to be protected but, as I have said several times before in the House, we should review the extent to which we are criminalising children, look to understand their needs and regard their welfare as crucial for them and equally important for society. The lack of early intervention in an offending child’s life will almost inevitably lead to a life of crime, with huge costs to the public, financially and emotionally.

My Lords, I am delighted that we are discussing this report so soon after it was published. That is very welcome. I had the privilege of serving on the panel that produced the report and I pay tribute to its other members who worked so hard to assemble the mass of evidence on which the report is so firmly based—particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who was the prime mover of the report and our inspiration throughout our meetings.

The report that has emerged is extremely wide ranging and contains recommendations for government, parents, teachers and society at large. As has been suggested, the most important recommendation is to society at large—that we must reduce the over-individualistic ethos in our society and teach our children to get more of their satisfaction in life from being of use to others. That has been spoken of movingly by many noble Lords and I want to confine my remarks to the recommendations aimed at the Government, in the hope that the noble Baroness can give the House some idea of the Government’s thinking on these points. Perhaps I should warn her that I have picked nine, although there are more. These go beyond what we have already had from the Government—the impressive children’s plan that was a major step forward in its time—because we need, in due course, to go further.

I begin with the three main recommendations relating to schools. We believe that schools have to take the lead in developing a better set of values in our children and a better understanding of themselves. This requires the right ethos in the school as a whole and more professional teaching of life skills, otherwise known as PSHE. Many schools have an excellent ethos, of course, based on explicit values, including respect, caring, generosity and so on. But we need that ethos in every school, and the Government’s programme on the social and emotional aspects of learning is a good step in that direction.

The teaching of life skills, or PSHE, has now become statutory. That is welcome, but it needs to be much more professionally taught, especially in our secondary schools. These are extremely difficult subjects to teach—they cannot be left to someone who has a gap in their timetable—and we recommend that, in secondary schools, PSHE should be a specialist subject, and studied as such, in the post-graduate certificate of education. If it is well done, it will draw on modern evidence-based materials which have been shown to be able to transform the lives of children. It will therefore attract a new kind of teacher into the schools—more psychology graduates, for instance—which would have a very good effect on the ethos of schools. But it requires a government decision to make it a specialist subject.

Secondly, as has been mentioned, school league tables produce an excessively exam-oriented ethos in the schools and an atmosphere too dominated by the fear of failure rather than the love of learning. We are very much in favour of tests, but they should be used as an aid to the learning of each individual child and its planning. We understand that that is behind the Government’s new pilots, which involve testing by “stage not age”, but it would tragic if, as seems possible, the results of this new approach are again fed into the framework of a league table. Of course, parents and local authorities need to know how a school is doing in terms of measured results compared with national benchmarks, but central government should cease to be the sponsor of a national horse race.

Thirdly, there is the intolerable inequality between our schools, especially our secondary schools. If you rank schools according to the proportion of children on free school meals, and then take the poorest quarter of our schools, you see that barely one of them reaches the national average performance in GCSE. That is not acceptable. One major problem is that those schools find it difficult to attract and retain the best teachers. An obvious remedy among others, which we recommend, is pay differentials in favour of schools with high percentages of children on free school meals. That needs to be done. The differential needs to be sufficient to ensure that the turnover and quality of teachers in those schools are no worse than the national average. Of course, we know that teachers are motivated not only by pay, but if the Government are serious about reducing educational inequality, they must put at least as much extra money into teacher quality in difficult schools as into better buildings.

I turn to our recommendations for the National Health Service. As has been said already, discord in the family is the greatest single obstacle to a good childhood: discord between parents and children, and discord between the parents. The NHS is one of the main instruments that we have which can help in mitigating these problems. We have made three recommendations: first, that the NHS should ensure that free classes on parenting are available to both parents around the time of childbirth. They would cover relationships as much as the physical care of a child. They should cover relationships between the parents and the child, and the impact on the relationship between the parents of having the child. Secondly, there should be support if, as time passes, those relationships deteriorate. The Government have taken excellent steps to help parents whose children are difficult. But what if the parents are fighting with each other? There is no national system of free counselling to support parents in this situation. The third sector does its bit, but the NHS must be the provider of last resort. At present, it is not. It helps parents only if their children are in trouble; it does not help parents who may cause their children to be in trouble. Thirdly, as has been said, there are the needs of children with serious mental health problems. They represent 10 per cent of all children, but, of them, only a quarter receive specialist help. We propose that the NHS should train 1,000 extra child therapists in the effective therapies which now exist for helping those children in such desperate need. This requires urgent government action in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

Our report covers many other equally important issues, but I shall refer to just three more recommendations. First, we deplore advertising aimed at children under 12—in Sweden, it is banned—and we propose that any firm selling goods in Britain should be debarred from commissioning advertising of this kind. Secondly, we deplore the Government’s failure to achieve their own target for reducing child poverty. It is vital that we get back on track. As has been said, no expenditure is more likely to stimulate aggregate demand in a recession than expenditure on children. The next Budget is the time for action. Thirdly, we need a new look at the priority given to children’s services in general. The UNICEF report that has been mentioned shows that those countries with the highest child welfare are those with the most qualified workers in children’s services. How we treat the people who work with children is the real test of how much we care about the children themselves.

I have mentioned nine specific recommendations, but I reiterate my opening point—that, if this report is remembered in 20 years’ time, we hope that it will be because it helped to turn back the tide of excessive individualism which is doing so much damage to our children.

My Lords, I, too, join others in paying tribute to my good friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, for his energy, initiative and leadership in this area.

In the time available to me today, I should like to look at child well-being in terms of the quality of the relationship between parents, by which it is massively affected. Research demonstrates that the optimal child-rearing environment for children is a committed marriage relationship. It is thus no coincidence that we find ourselves having to reflect on the failure of our culture in relationship to children at a time when marriage rates are at an all-time low. Twenty-three in 1,000 men and 21 in every 1,000 women choose to marry, which is lowest the rate since 1862.

Reflecting on this in his afterword, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said of marriage in relationship to the law:

“There is certainly no quick solution when we are speaking about a large scale cultural phenomenon: laws cannot make marriages work. But what they can do is to give all reasonable support to men and women who want to be responsibly and generously there for their children, and who need to be helped to resist the sort of pressures that destroy relationships through overwork and economic hardship”.

The question that we must thus address is: does the law at the moment “give all reasonable support”?

Research published this week by CARE looks at the way in which different OECD countries share out the tax burden. I must tell your Lordships’ House that it does not provide any reassurance that the tax system provides “all reasonable support”. The report demonstrates that the tax burden on one-earner married couples on average income and with two children is 44 per cent above the OECD average—I should point out that this burden is calculated after having regard to income tax, national insurance contributions, tax credits and child benefits.

One-earner married couples are of course of particular significance to discussions about parental investment in child development, because they are invariably the result of a couple deciding that one partner will be based at home for the children. Such families provide the ultimate means of addressing the so-called “latchkey kid” phenomenon, which documents how many children return home from school to find that both parents are at work and that they must consequently spend a significant number of hours each week unsupervised, where they become vulnerable to behavioural problems and other social difficulties. Why is it that couples who want to bring up their children in a one-earner married environment, with all its benefits, should be penalised so severely in the UK vis-à-vis the OECD average?

We must remember the concept of sustainable development; namely, that we should run our economy in such a way that it damages neither the natural nor the social environment, since to do so jeopardises long-term economic growth. We might encourage mothers back to work, but if the latchkey kid phenomenon and the concomitant social difficulties are the result, it is clear that we will pay in the long term, given that those damaged children are more likely to become damaged adults and consequently less likely to make their full contribution as citizens in the future.

In highlighting the failure of the tax system to provide “reasonable support”, CARE’s research also endorses another central theme of the Good Childhood report, its concern regarding the growing culture of individualism. OECD countries place an average tax burden on one-earner married couples on an average wage with two children that is just 55 per cent of the tax burden placed on a single person with no family commitments or responsibilities. In the UK, however, the burden placed on one-earner married couples is 76 per cent of that placed on single people with no dependants. Given the fact that we should be sensitive to family responsibility if we are to foster the best environment for children and thus increase their chances of enjoying a good childhood, it seems a very sorry state of affairs that two people with no dependants earning £10,000 each will be taxed less than one person earning £20,000 because they will access two tax allowances, whereas the person earning £20,000 will access only one. What does that say about our attitude to motherhood; that we are not prepared to allow a non-working wife to transfer her tax allowance to her husband as a small token of respect for the invaluable work she carries out in the development of her children?

Staying with the subject of government policy giving “all reasonable support” to the couple relationship at the heart of child development, I want to mention the whole issue of child poverty. There are two main groups of poor children: children of lone parents where the parents cannot or are unable to work and children in couple families where both or one parent works. Much of the debate has focused on reducing the number of children in the first group. The second group has largely been ignored. The fact is that most children living in poverty live in two-parent families. The latest figures show that 2.9 million children are living in poverty on a “before housing cost basis” and that approximately 60 per cent of them are living in couple families. Tax credits need to be redesigned to give more help to children in poverty in two-parent families, while not diminishing that given to single parent families.

In engaging with this challenge, one must appreciate that the imperative for redesigning the tax credit does not relate narrowly to material poverty. The fact is that the present tax credit arrangements mean that many families on low to modest incomes are better off if the parents live apart, even when taking into account the extra housing costs. Given that the well-being of the children is best supported by the presence of both father and mother in the same home, encouraging parents to live apart impoverishes the child development experience and is very ill advised.

I could go on at length on this subject, but I am conscious of the looks that come from the government Front Bench if one oversteps the mark, and I do not wish to lose the few friends I have. The Government urgently need to redesign tax credits to allow for the presence of two parents, so that while single parents get no less support, poor two-parent families get credits that take account of the financial needs of both the mother and the father. When the Government work out whether a family is in poverty, they take account of the financial needs of all members of the family. Tax credits need to do the same. As regards taxation and the tax credit system, a great deal must be done to facilitate the good childhood.

My Lords, I join others in congratulating and thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Layard on producing the report. It has been a long time in the making. I welcome the amount of consultation that has taken place and that the voice of the child and young person has been put at the centre of the considerations. Every generation looks at how we are going on in terms of our obligations to the next generation. I have to say that there seems to be more national angst about the nature of childhood than there has been perhaps for many decades.

I certainly welcome the report. I accept its premise that putting the child at the centre of our concerns is of prime importance and that their needs must come first. That seems to me to be the nature of the responsibilities of an adult to a child. If that is how the report interprets what it calls “individualism”, I would be happy with it, although I think that it goes further than that and is worthy of a debate itself. I am prepared to support that. I also support the comments on advertising and commercialism as well as the culture of celebrity in which our children grow up.

The comments about young people and mental ill health are very well made. That is something that so many of us did not think was an issue because we did not know the extent of mental ill health among that age group. All that is welcome.

Every generation of adults is worried about children. The nature of the generation gap is that there is a bit of us that does not quite understand the world in which our children are growing up. There is another bit of us that yearns for how it used to be because for us that feels safer and more secure. That problem is more prevalent in our generation than in any other because the world in which our children grow up is so very different from the world in which we grew up because of the nature of change, and because of so many good things as well as so many that would give us concern. I want to concentrate a little around that edge as I think there is a real danger of either panicking too much or not really understanding why we sometimes feel so ill at ease with the nature of childhood, although I take nothing away from our concerns about that.

The length of childhood is very different from what it was when I was growing up. The old 21st birthday cards that gave you the key to the door were almost literally and metaphorically true. There was a point when childhood ended, when you left your parents’ place of residence and you moved into the outside world. There were rights of passage about that—taking an apprenticeship and getting the qualification.

Children physically mature far earlier than they used to, yet they are kept in institutions for children far longer. They are kept in schools far longer, and that is a good thing; they stay with their parents longer, and that is a good thing; and they turn to their parents for financial support, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the financial support they want. However, being a child, and the length of time you are a child, is very different from when I was growing up. That point of leaving childhood and becoming an adult is not as marked as it used to be. Therefore, those rights of passage are very different.

We try to broaden our children’s aspirations. Sometimes that widens the boundaries of behaviour, disciplines, values and rules in which they are meant to grow up. Being a child now is far more complicated and challenging, and, in some ways, it is far more difficult. Our temptation was a cigarette behind the bicycle sheds. Now it is the dealing of drugs on urban streets. However, there are more opportunities and, in many ways, childhood has never offered as many opportunities to travel, to learn, to meet more people and to change the world. Therefore, what the debate must be is how well are we preparing children to cope with those changes, not that we can turn the clock back or that that is not the world they inhabit.

I want to talk a little about family patterns because, to some extent, the heart of the report was about that. I accept that there is evidence that children are most successfully brought up by two adults, preferably their parents, living in the home for those years of their childhood. You have to be careful to debate and write about that in a way that does not blame other family patterns for almost-bound-to-fail children and young people. Although you might be surprised at the public comments that have followed those particular parts of the report, it was to be expected. They were predictable because it is a real issue in society, and we need to be very careful how we debate that.

There are other considerations behind families and family set-ups as well as the statistics that face us in this book. I want to look at a few of them. What has gone in a generation is the extended family living close by, the supportive communities and the neighbours you knew and could turn to, and—something I worry about but feel guilty about worrying about—the professionalisation of support roles. I think of my grandmother who was brought up in inner-city Manchester without a qualification to her name. What she and her neighbours did for other families, we now allow people to do only if they have an NVQ level 3. Although I am the last person to want people not to be trained and to have qualifications, what we have caused to happen is ordinary men and women thinking that the only people who can support their families are those with qualifications and not their neighbours and people who live in their area.

When we look at how to support families, we should consider not just the nature of family breakdown—I do not underestimate the importance of that—but the relationship of the family to the community as well as the relationship of the family to the state. A range of policies is available for supporting families, now referred to as “politics in the family”. However, when we talk about regenerating communities we need a better understanding of where families are based in communities. Somehow we need to re-empower people to make some of these decisions themselves. Two generations of people have been made to feel that they almost cannot bring up their own families. We should empower them to do so.

I have changed my mind in the past five years as regards my next point. I very much agree with the comments about locking up too many young children. The state took on the role of laying down behavioural boundaries because parents should have done so but they did not. The problem with that is that the punishment for failing to keep within the boundaries is incarceration at the end of the line. If you leave the power to lay down those boundaries with the family, the penalty is something else. However, it is a big issue and I am not sure how we get out of it. Politicians often talk about the legacy that they will leave. All of us, whether politicians or not, ought to remember that our real legacy will be reflected in how we bring up our children and how much we support those for whom that is the prime responsibility.

My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on chairing this important inquiry and on the brilliant way in which he introduced it in the House this afternoon. I, too, declare an interest, as the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parents and Families.

For me, the great strength of this report is that it is not afraid to talk about the importance of love. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will support me in this. Parental love is the aspect of the report on which I shall focus, because there is no time to look at all of it. In this context it is interesting that, in the detailed family study, children referred to love some six times, whereas professionals referred to it only once. I wonder what the reason for that is. Could it be that love cannot be accurately measured and is therefore unscientific? Or could it be that professionals are afraid of public confusion between parental love and the sexual exploitation of children, what we wrongly call paedophilia? Paedophilia means love of children, whereas sexual abuse is the exploitation of children.

What is this love that all children yearn for? What do children mean when they talk about love? I can only suggest some of the things that children need from parental love. The first is to feel safe in a frightening world, to feel loved and to know that they matter to someone whom they love. They need to be given clear boundaries, but to know that they will be forgiven when they make mistakes. They need to have time with their parents and to be stimulated and encouraged in order to build their self-esteem. They need to learn by example how to communicate and, indeed, how to behave. In his interesting and excellent afterword to the report, the most reverend Primate refers to,

“love not as warm feeling alone, but as long-term commitment to someone else's well-being as something that matters profoundly to one's own well-being”.

The report's findings on the importance of parental love, especially in the early years, confirm the accepted wisdom that Bowlby and Ainsworth postulated more than 50 years ago about the importance for young children of secure attachment. Secure parental love enables the young child to have an experience of loving and being loved in a way that will stand him in good stead in all subsequent relationships. However, the converse must also be true. A child who has not had the chance to develop socially and emotionally and to build self-esteem during the early years in the family will find it much harder to integrate into school and will not be emotionally equipped to cope with the challenges of romantic and sexual love when these come along later on. That is part of the reason for much of the insecurity, anger and hate in some of our young people today.

If early and secure parental love is so important to all children, why are we as a society not doing more to nurture and encourage it? Much could be done. This Government have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that they do not believe that government should interfere in the way that adults choose to live their lives. In a sense they are right: you cannot make a law that parents must love their child. But that does not mean that you cannot try to persuade and encourage—to nudge—all parents to do what is best for their child. I quote again from the most reverend Primate's afterword. It states:

“We need to develop a culture in which people are not only interested in their right to have a child but in how they guarantee the conditions in which a child can be brought up in security and emotional confidence”.

I suggest that three things are needed to persuade and assist parents: information, motivation and help. Information, emotional literacy and relationship education—the noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to this—should be a major element in the curriculum of every school, not just something tacked on to sex and relationship education. It should be more important than that and comprise a major cross-curricular theme throughout the whole syllabus, because relationships are taught by example, practice and experience as much as in any other way. All young adults should learn about the social and emotional needs of young children, and that parents are crucially important in providing for those needs.

Fathers have been mentioned. Fathers must be made to understand that they are just as responsible as mothers for their child, including for its conception. In this context I refer to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about bicycle sheds, because the other day I visited a school where the bicycle sheds were built with transparent Perspex, which seems to me to be a dirty trick. Both boys and girls should learn in school that parenthood is no light matter and that no one should bring a child into the world unless they are prepared to make the sacrifices that will be involved in giving their child the love and support it needs. Parents need a clear road map. Frank Field MP recently suggested that there should be a “highway code” for parenting. That sounds a good idea.

As for motivation, tax and benefits policy should be revised to encourage parents to live together and to love and care for their children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham mentioned that a new study by CARE was released yesterday which indicated that the “couple penalty” in the tax and benefit system must be removed or reversed. Tax and benefit systems should take account of taxpayers' family responsibilities and transferable allowances for married couples should be reintroduced. Government housing policy should also be reviewed to ensure that every young couple has access to somewhere affordable to build a nest for their new family when they have their first baby, even if it is only a mobile home. Parents cannot fulfil their role if they do not have time to do so. Issues about flexible working are involved in that.

The report suggests a “naming day” for each child with a ceremony at which parents can commit themselves to one another. This kind of “second-class marriage” might help to crystallise commitment, but I am not entirely convinced about that. The Government have a number of excellent programmes to help parents. All that is really needed in that field is to ensure that the personnel are available to deliver it and that the funding is available on a long-term basis.

To summarise, we need parents at the centre of our policies for children. The report provides evidence that young children need, above all, parental love and commitment. We need to persuade parents that they have a key role in providing this stable, loving and supportive environment—this family life—for their children, and that it will involve some sacrifices. We have to convince them that this is a job that we as a society believe is very important, and that we are prepared to respect and empower—and perhaps to reward—them for doing this most important of all jobs.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing this most impressive report with great wisdom and eloquence. This is the first time that 11 leading experts debated the subject among themselves, spoke to nearly 30,000 children, adults and professionals, and took three years to identify the problem, trace its causes and propose solutions. It is a great tribute to the Children's Society and the inquiry panel: the noble Lord, Lord Layard, Professor Judy Dunn, and, of course, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose spirit protected and informs the report.

Many of the report's 20-odd recommendations are persuasive and I hope the Government and other agencies will act on them. The current economic climate is likely to worsen the situation. It could easily lead to domestic tensions and violence, an atmosphere of anxiety and depression, suicides, mental ill health and a culture of victimhood. All these will take their toll on our children. The question, therefore, is urgent, and the report deserves to be taken in the spirit of urgency.

However, I have three or four reservations about the report. In my view, its diagnosis of the problem, its explanations and its solutions do not go far enough. First, it homogenises British society and ignores important differences between England, Scotland and Wales, as well as between the various communities that make up our multiethnic society. The problems relating to children and teenagers are not as acute or, rather, are of a different kind within the Chinese and Indian communities. We might need to ask why that is the case.

Secondly, I find the report somewhat ahistorical. It does not explore how British society has developed since the 1950s, which it takes as its point of reference. It does not explain what important cultural, economic and political changes have taken place which explain the decline. When did excessive individualism enter our national life? Why was it not spotted? Why was it not arrested? Why was it not fought? Unless we understand when excessive individualism entered our national life, we will not be able to understand its nature or its causes. Noble Lords have talked about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. The event which I recall happening in that period was the Thatcherite revolution and the idea that there is no such thing as society. It might be worth asking what profound changes it reflected and introduced into our society.

My third reservation is of a slightly different nature. The report rightly said that Britain comes out rather poorly on the indices of child well-being. UNICEF placed us 21st out of 25 industrialised countries. The Primary Review, a three-year Cambridge University study into primary education in England, pointed in the same direction. Since the problem is in some sense peculiar to us and the United States—and I am more interested in us than in the United States—the question is: what is it about our society, or our ways of bringing up children, that creates these problems? Why is it not found to the same degree in other western European countries, such as France, Italy or Spain, compared to which we do so badly? It cannot be capitalism, a competitive economy or individualism, all of which we share with other European countries. I would therefore like to see a comparative study that isolates uniquely British factors and tells us what lessons and good practices we can learn from other European countries.

Let me give one example. In France and Italy, for example, parents go out for meals with children and spend a lot of time with them, and children sit in on adult conversations. We tend not to do that here. We spend a lot of time with our children, but largely in children-related activities. We play with them and take them on holidays, but we do not let them enter our own worlds. When guests come for dinner, children either are put to bed or retire to their rooms. In other words, we do not integrate our children into adult life in the same way as other western European countries seem to do. Why does this happen? What can we learn from them? This is important, because it is not enough to talk in terms of values. Values are not acquired abstractly or through lessons; they are acquired through structures of human relationships and integration with adults. In other words, the question of our poor performance can be answered only in cultural terms, an area which is largely neglected by the report.

As an African proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. That proverb needs to be updated to say that it takes a whole nation to raise a child. The principles of solidarity, community and responsibility that the report stresses cannot be limited to the family or acquired only within the framework of the family. They need to be embodied in our major economic and political institutions, and the conduct of our leaders. Politics sets the tone of society, and if it leaves something to be desired, as it currently does, wrong messages are sent out to society. In other words, we need a strong sense of national purpose and values. I would like to think that the way we cope with and resolve the current financial crisis would send out some important messages as to the kind of society we are and wish to be.

There is another small factor to consider: more women go out to work in Britain than in many other European countries. This has its obvious advantages, but it also has its disadvantages. The advantages are: it gives women a greater sense of self-worth and self- fulfilment; they bring new ideas and experiences from work into the family; and their absence from home accentuates their appreciation of the importance of the family. But there are obvious disadvantages: children are sometimes left on their own, and women are tired and emotionally exhausted when they come home.

For all these reasons, families need far greater support than they currently have. We cannot wish for a situation where women do not go out to work—that is simply impossible for economic, moral, cultural and other reasons. What we need to do is cope with and find ways of dealing with the cost that this entails. Parents need more flexible working hours, greater maternity and paternity leave, more childcare facilities and better co-operation with schools than is currently the case. We also need to reduce economic inequality and child poverty. And this is where the state comes in. This is what has happened in Scandinavian countries. It is increasingly being taken on board by France, Germany and Italy, and we have much to learn from them. The report was right to stress this, and I suggest that we need to build on it and go beyond it.

My Lords, I too am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for tabling this important and timely debate. I thank the authors of this landmark work, the noble Lord, Lord Layard—Professor Layard—and Professor Judy Dunn. I also thank Mr Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, for facilitating this production and for his excellent preface. I was grateful to be consulted on the early findings of the inquiry, and note that Camilla Batmangeildjh, renowned for her outstanding work with children otherwise forgotten by society—she caters for 2,000 such children daily—was one of the consultees. The noble and learned Baroness referred to gangs as families. What Miss Batmanghelidjh has done is to provide a much more positive family environment for children who would otherwise enter these gangs on the streets.

I am most grateful for this landmark report and its encouragement to parents and politicians to reforge their commitment to our children. I hope that the Minister will give thorough consideration to the report's recommendations, and I particularly look forward to her comments on these today. The report refers to the importance of sex and relationship education, and we have heard that the Government have now made PSHE statutory. That seems to me to be a very welcome step forward, and it may be important in meeting some of the concerns raised by the report. The investment that the Government have made in teachers over the past 10 years and in raising the status of the teaching profession may also be very important in helping us to meet some of the concerns raised in the report. I declare my non-pecuniary interests as a trustee of the Michael Sieff Foundation and of TACT, the Adolescent and Children's Trust, a not-for-profit foster care organisation.

Of all the striking insights that this report provides about the state of childhood in the UK, I was struck most by what Mr Reitemeier says in his preface about the importance to children of parental commitment, which was repeated by the right reverend Prelate in his opening speech. There was the story of Adam, the young man in foster care, residential placements and then in the criminal justice system and the importance to this young man of meeting an independent visitor who stuck by him through thick and thin over many years, and who rebuilt his faith in society and in the possibility of making a contribution to society. All my experience with young people supports what Mr Reitemeier says. Each child needs the full commitment of, ideally, two parents and of society as a whole. This is the point that my noble friend Lord Northbourne has sought to impress on your Lordships year after year.

I welcome the attention that the report gives to childcare for young children. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury drew our attention to this matter. I quote from page 30 of the report:

“At the same time, for parents who are both at work, there is an urgent need for higher-quality child-care. Research has consistently shown the link between high-quality pre-school provision and good child outcomes at later ages. This requires well-educated staff who are well paid”.

While Her Majesty's Government have introduced the first childcare legislation, invested heavily in early years staff development, provided the early years framework to direct early years workers and introduced the first national strategy for childcare, we are still 30 years behind the best countries in this area. Nursery workers still tend to be young, poorly educated women, who are poorly paid and working on a short-term basis. Turnover of staff can be high, and this can be aggravated by poor investment in the development of staff. This high turnover of staff, the low status of the work and shift patterns can give rise to poor-quality, impersonal care, where children have little opportunity to build warm relationships with individual staff members.

Jay Belsky in his research in the United States finds that prolonged exposure to poor-quality childcare at an early age gives rise to a small but significant increase in behavioural difficulties on entering school. He expresses concern that if large numbers of children experience this early poor-quality care, the social impact may be significant and harmful. The Good Childhood Inquiry acknowledges the benefit to cognitive development of nursery care in the early years and the lack of research in the UK with similar results to Belsky. It refers, I think, to research finding that children with experience of nursery care can be more sociable when they enter school and can get along better with other children. It points out that research in the UK indicates that adverse aggressive behaviour resulting from childcare tends to disappear after the age of 10. It calls for more research into the impact of childcare.

I share the report's desire for further research. In particular, I am concerned about the long-term impact of prolonged exposure to poor-quality childcare in a child's earliest years. John Bowlby, the clinician writing in the 1960s whose work on attachment theory, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has referred to, has become so influential in recent years and is referred to by the Good Childhood Inquiry, took the view that the earliest relationships set the pattern for later relationships. For example, the first romance with the parents and the love of the parents set the pattern for the later romance with the child's lifetime partner. It may be that experience of early poor-quality childcare hinders the formation of strong, committed adult relationships. Poor-quality early childcare may contribute to the problem identified by the authors as being at the core of decline in the quality of childhood and to the decline in the ability of parents to fully commit to one another and their children. Therefore, I would particularly welcome evidence from longitudinal studies relating early attachment experiences to later adult relationships with partners and children. The research that I have seen cited so far goes at the furthest to the age of 18.

I am glad that the report highlights the need to go far further in developing nursery staff and childminders. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, finished by saying that we show our commitment to our children by our commitment to the people who care for those children. I entirely agree, and I welcome the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking to develop such work. I ask the Minister and her colleagues to proceed slowly and modestly with regard to childcare provision. We start from a low base. We do not know the harm that may be caused by advancing too quickly with insufficient attention to quality of childcare. At the same time, I acknowledge the importance to parents of access to childcare, particularly for those wishing to escape from poverty.

I would be grateful for answers from the Minister to the following questions. I regret not having been able to give her much notice of these, and I quite understand if she would prefer to write to me in reply. What percentage of nursery settings provide regular—once a month or more frequently—staff work discussion groups, when staff have an opportunity to present their experience of individual children for discussion among colleagues, a senior practitioner being present to offer advice? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage this model of good practice? How are Her Majesty's Government monitoring turnover of staff within individual nursery settings? What level of turnover do Her Majesty's Government consider harmful or necessitating investigation? How are Her Majesty's Government monitoring whether the key person role is being effectively implemented in nursery settings, which is a requirement of the early years framework?

Again, I understand if the Minister will need to write to me in reply. I conclude by repeating my gratitude to the Children's Society for this very helpful report and to the Government for their continuing interest in and concern for the welfare of children. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the Children's Society on the report and this debate. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF, to the work of which a number of noble Lords have referred.

The report set out to identify what is important to children. I am pleased to say that the researchers did the right thing and asked thousands of children. It is a very important report because, while it addressed the problems of children in the 21st century, it emphasised what children have always needed and always will need—love and happiness. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was correct in predicting that I would mention that. It concluded that we need to change our culture to bring about a more positive attitude to children who are, as the right reverend Prelate said, the responsibility of us all, so we should set them a good example. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, it takes a village to bring up a child, or perhaps a whole nation.

The report, which was not well served by its media coverage, appears to identify too much individualism as the cause of the problems of today's children. This is blamed for family break-up, teenage unkindness—does that mean bullying?—commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality. While I agree that all these things are bad for children, I fail, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to see the connection with individualism in all cases—it would be too simplistic a generalisation. These negative elements in our children's lives have many different causes; many families break up for reasons other than too much individualism on the part of one or other parent. I do not see what it has to do with little girls being persuaded to wear make-up and to dress like their mothers. Advertising does that. I do not think that any of us accepts income inequality, but it has become a very hard nut to crack, despite the best efforts of Governments and charities such as the Children's Society, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham explained.

I agree with the report that loving, nurturing families in which children observe and feel love and learn how to love others are the best environment for a growing child. However, as my noble friend Lady Garden said, there are many models of such families. When I was a young mother, Sunday lunchtime often found me with my head under the bonnet of the car and my husband in the kitchen cooking the lunch, such was where our talents lay.

Children thrive in loving families because it is in such an environment that they will experience the least stress and the most positive feedback. Stress is extremely damaging to growing children, as I elaborated in my speech last Thursday about domestic violence. It affects their brain development, growth, current and future health, intellectual ability and emotional maturity and is to be avoided if possible.

As the report points out, there have been two major changes in family life in recent years: more women going out to work and more families breaking up. However, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, the stress on the child can be reduced if they are consulted, if grown-ups behave like grown-ups, not like children, and if they put the children's well-being first in all their arrangements, offsetting the cost, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it.

Of course, what a child needs most is an enduring, loving attachment to at least one adult, which is why it is so difficult to do the best possible for children in care if they keep moving around.

I blame the pharmaceutical industry, to which I, and many other women, have cause to be grateful. First of all, along came the contraceptive pill, so that I did not have to have 10 children like my grandmother did and so I could go out to work and contribute to the family economy. Many children today are better fed and clothed and have much more fun than ever before because their mothers go to work. Then along came HRT, which kept us all young, gave us more energy and enabled us to work longer than our mothers did. This means that many grannies cannot look after the children while mum goes to work because they are at work themselves. However, the report tells us that 44 per cent of children of working mothers are cared for by a relative, at least in part, and this is fine as long as they are well supported, especially in the early years.

That brings us to the subject of childcare. Research shows that, as long as the relationship with the parent is good and the quality of childcare is high, the child in a good nursery does not suffer at all; indeed, from the age of two, the child can benefit enormously from good group care. He learns to socialise and share as well as having more stimulation than most homes can give. He comes into contact with well trained professionals who can identify problems and arrange early intervention. We on these Benches believe, therefore, that investment in a good amount of high-quality childcare from the age of two is an investment worth making. We also believe that parents should have 19 months of shared parental leave so that father as well as mother can bond with the child. The report's recommendation that parents should be allowed up to three years' leave from work, albeit unpaid, is ambitious. However, I wonder how many people could afford it.

This brings me back to the subject of fathers. It is sad to learn that 28 per cent of children from separated families have no contact with their father after three years. Fathers are, of course, as important to children as their mothers. The child's relationship with the father affects his or her psychological well-being, enables him to develop friendships and empathy with others, affects his self-esteem and educational achievement and makes him less susceptible to drug abuse and crime. That is why we on these Benches are so keen on parental leave, not just maternity leave, and on more rights to flexible working. I suspect that a father who has held a baby in his arms, changed its nappy, dried its tears and really got to know its developing personality is much less likely to go away and lose interest. Sadly, many fathers who have had broken relationships find it terribly difficult to keep contact with their children. The resident parent has enormous power and can even prevent the non-resident parent from receiving information from the child's school, doctor, et cetera. Of course, this is warranted in the case of abuse or violence, but usually it is not. Can the Minister say whether the details of the non-resident parent must be on the new ContactPoint database?

It seems a great pity to me that courts do not, or cannot, enforce contact orders, since far too many break down against the wishes of the non-resident parent. It can be very hard for fathers to keep contact, so we need to think how the state can help—more conciliation services, more counselling for parents in danger of breaking up and more help with parenting strategies. The report proposes parenting programmes for all parents around the time of birth, free on the NHS. Hooray for that, I say.

Grandparents need help too, especially if they are separated from their grandchildren because of a difficult divorce or separation. Grandparent carers should also have access to advice and support from children's centres. After all, it is probably a long time since they looked after a toddler.

Before I close, I turn briefly to the subject of friends. I found it interesting that children value friends second only to family. Most children today keep in far-too-regular touch with their friends on mobile phones and the internet, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that they need places where they can meet in the flesh to share interests and enjoyment. That is why it is wrong that youth services have been so reduced in recent years. I congratulate the Government on putting the proceeds of abandoned bank accounts into youth services and I applaud the report's recommendation for a high-quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will be able to match up to that?

Very finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and my noble friend Lady Garden about school league tables, SATs and raising the status, pay and training of people who work with children. We pay people who clean our houses more than we pay some of those who work with our children. The status and pay of teachers have been successfully raised over recent years. Can we not learn lessons from that in relation to those who work in early years settings and children and family social workers? As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, these are two important groups of the children's workforce and they need more support and recognition, since they are looking after our country's future and our most precious resource.

My Lords, in joining noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and all involved in the report, I should like to add that I feel especially privileged to participate in a debate led by the Bishop of my great home city of Leicester. Leicester is very fortunate to have someone so passionate about the welfare and well-being of people, children and young people in particular. The right reverend Prelate laid out eloquently the findings of the report. Indeed, I listened carefully to all noble Lords, including those whose experiences certainly outweigh my own.

Reading the report, I was continually reminded very much of what we as a party have being saying for a very long time: stable, loving relationships are the best way for children and young people to flourish and become responsible citizens. The report looked at a number of key areas and, like other noble Lords, I shall speak on a number of them and ask the Minister questions posed by the report. The report identified that in order for children to flourish, be happy and achieve their potential, having a loving, stable family structure was important. The comments made in the report by children clearly identified a need for stability, avoidance of conflict and a desire to be nurtured. My noble friend Lady Byford rightly pointed out that the implications for society are enormous if parents abrogate their own responsibilities, and that economic and social factors usually hugely impact upon these fragile structures even more so.

The rise in family breakdown and the increase in divorce rates have had adverse effects on our society. Where there were once obvious networks of friends and family, we now have transient relationships, with people coming in and out of the lives of these young children. Does the Minister accept that, under this Government, the traditional family structure has been penalised by the tax system, providing fewer incentives for people to stay together, so rightly highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. He rightly says that more support for two-parent families does not have to be at the cost of supporting single parents. Surely both relationships should be strengthened.

When families separate, 28 per cent of children sadly lose all contact with their fathers by three years after separation. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about the importance of the father in the lives of children. Children from broken families are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school and suffer behavioural problems, anxiety or depression. Can the Minister say what progress the Government are making in ensuring that schools are better equipped to address these rising problems?

Child poverty is up by 100,000 children, standing at 2.9 million before housing costs are calculated. These figures have remained unchanged for the past five years. The number of families living in severe poverty has risen to 400,000 since 1998-99, and I suspect, with the current economic climate and the increasing numbers of job losses, that will be set to rise. Does the Minister still believe that the Government will reach their target to halve child poverty by 2010, by 500,000 children; or will she accept the predictions made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that, on current policies, the Government will miss all their targets?

The Government have made much over the past 11 years of the number of jobs that have been created in the UK. Can the Minister then say why we have a higher proportion of children living in workless households than any of our partners in Europe? Would the Minster not agree with me that the approach taken by my party of looking at both worklessness and educational failure together will deal with the problems culminating from these crucial areas?

Children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often perform less well in school. They are 13 times more likely to fail their maths GCSE. Often there is a greater pressure on teachers to teach disruptive pupils rather than exclude or expel them. The cost of expulsions for schools of around £5,000 has often put schools off from proceeding with them, especially as one in four is unsuccessful under the current system. Can the Minster say what the Government are doing to improve teacher authority in the classroom and school authority over expulsion?

The Government have without doubt spent enormous amounts of money on education. Yet the gap between schools in more affluent areas and those in poorer areas widens. Truancy rates have increased, as have the cases of both physical and emotional bullying. Schools need to be places of safety and security, places of happiness and learning, of friendships, and of exploring the world through critical eyes and exchanging experiences. If you are academically minded and attend a school in an affluent area, you will be one of the 89 per cent expected to reach key stage 2, compared to only 69 per cent in more deprived areas. In 2006, 67 per cent of children in the least deprived areas achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C, compared to 28 per cent in the most deprived areas. What are the Government doing to address the shortage of male graduates, in particular, going into teaching, especially as there is a real need where male role models are scarce? Will the Minister say more about how teachers are being encouraged to stay in the profession, as the numbers leaving seem to be ever increasing?

The report overwhelmingly points out the importance of families in providing stability and love for children. It is crucial that, with the fragile networks many children have to exist on today, all is done to ensure that they share a loving and stable relationship. In times of economic pressure, job losses and rising unemployment, the most stable and strong families are tested. What are the Government doing to help those in vulnerable positions? I have in recent days had many letters from people frightened of repossessions, afraid of losing their benefits if they cannot find employment. Yet they cannot find employers taking on new employees.

The Government have promised childcare for all parents seeking employment with children under four. Will the Minister say what is being done to accelerate the numbers of nursery places available to parents? Is the Minister confident that the Government will reach their target of 3,500 Sure Start centres by 2010? If they are in areas where there are no state funded centres, will parents still get access to funding to use at their local PVIs?

On children's health, it has sadly been widely reported that as the economic downturn hits there is an even greater tendency to eat cheaper food, often cheap fast food. We know that children are less active now and spend longer periods in front of the television and the computers. There is also a much greater tendency for parents not to let their children play in unsupervised open spaces, such is the fear for the safety of the child. Sadly, there are fewer open spaces and only one in four young children has access to a youth club. Children are becoming so risk-averse that decision-making becomes a real challenge. Of course, this will have a negative impact on the decisions they take in later life.

The Government have of course pledged in the Children's Plan to increase open spaces, and that is very welcome. But can the Minister say that she will also work with other agencies to address the culture of fear and mistrust felt by both parents and children of our streets and open spaces? Will she also revisit encouraging parents to get their children to become physically more active? Can she say whether all schools are providing at least four hours of physical activity in school?

We are seeing increasing numbers of children suffering with behavioural and conduct disorders. These children are then more likely to be involved in crime, truancy and anti-social behaviour. What is being done to put in early intervention programmes? Are there adequate resources available to health professionals to ensure that assessments can take place at the early stages of a child posing difficulties? What support, if any, is there for children wishing to seek support?

Alongside the problems of obesity, we have underage drinking and teenage pregnancies. There was a 14 per cent increase in alcohol-related admissions to A&E departments in 2006 of under-18 year olds, and violent attacks under the influence of alcohol went from 40 per cent in 1996 to 46 per cent in 2007. The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in the EU. What more is being done to ensure that sex education in schools is introduced much more with relationships at the heart of the subject's teaching, and that it is introduced at an appropriate age? The easier availability of contraception has sadly led to an increased rise in STIs. Does the Minister agree with me that, while contraception advice is important, it is also crucial that young people are aware of the other dangers involved with sexual relationships?

While there is so much to discuss, I have some brief points on the need for equality of all children to be able to enjoy a well supported home and school life. We must do all we can to see that children with special needs and learning and physical disabilities are able to enjoy happy experiences throughout their childhoods. That is why I urge the Government to stop the closure of any more SENs. While we all accept that inclusion is important, there may be children who need the specialist pastoral care that only specialist teachers can provide.

This has been a fascinating debate. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I believe that we have a real duty to ensure that our children get the best possible start in life. I look forward to the Minister's response to the many questions raised by your Lordships today.

My Lords, I am afraid that I will not be able to pick up all the many questions raised today, but I will do my best, as usual, to respond in writing to those I cannot cover now. I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for calling this important debate. I also thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has joined our debate today, and all those who have contributed to this very interesting and, as ever in this House, valuable session. The commitment of every speaker today to the health and well-being of children has come over loud and clear, and I hope that this is one of many more debates that we will have about what constitutes a good childhood.

I welcome A Good Childhood, the report published by the Children's Society, and pay tribute to the authors, my noble friend Lord Layard and Professor Judy Dunn, and those who took the time to contribute to the lengthy and extensive consultation that the Children's Society carried out. The way in which a society treats its children is a good indication of its values, and the report has much to say about the values of modern society. As my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen said, the Government's commitment to children and young people is very clearly set out in the Children's Plan. It could be argued that the five principles of the Children's Plan strike at the heart of the very individualism that the Children's Society report is concerned about. The five principles are that the Government do not bring up children; parents do, so those in Government need to do more to back parents and families. That picks up the concerns of my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley that we do not forget about the contribution of families and friends and do not err towards overprofessionalisation.

The second principle of the Children's Plan is that all children have the potential to succeed, and we should help them to go as far as their talents will take them. Thirdly, children and young people need to enjoy their childhood as well as grow up prepared for adult life. The report makes that point, too. Fourthly, services need to be shaped by and responsive to children, young people and families, not designed around professional boundaries. The fifth principle is that it is always better to prevent failure than tackle a crisis, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, made.

Our vision is a future where this is the best place in the world for children to grow up and where every child can achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes. I believe that we will see more promising results as we work with UNICEF on future reports. The Every Child Matters outcomes are a golden thread that runs through all our work in government and in local government. These are: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic well-being. The approach set out in the Children's Plan is for a holistic approach to children's services to help ensure that no one falls through the net. That means universal services for children, backed up by targeted support for those with particular needs, for instance, young people suffering from mental health problems or with special educational needs.

My noble friend Lord Parekh issued a challenge to us, calling for a more historical analysis, which I am sure would be very welcome. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, said. A lot of the coverage of this report tended, sadly, to focus on an assertion that the quality of life in childhood is in decline. Like her, I wonder when this golden age of childhood was. Children growing up in this country today enjoy a standard of health and opportunities for fun and learning that would have been unimaginable to their ancestors. As my noble friend Lady Morris suggested, perhaps we sometimes yearn for a world that we can understand a little better. Do we understand anything like as well as we should what it is like for children growing up in a modern world? Modern childhood contains pressures that would have been equally unimaginable to earlier generations.

Twenty-first century parents need to balance work and family life, and must find ways of dealing with new challenges such as the internet and increasing commercialisation. At the same time, they must keep their children safe while allowing them the freedom to explore the wider world. Our very ambitious play strategy looks at the question of how we can help children take safe and proportionate risks.

The latest results from the regular Tellus report, based on a national survey of 150,000 children and young people, show that the majority—69 per cent—report that they are happy, and that 95 per cent say they have one or more good friends; that is, not just a name on Facebook. Fewer feel unsafe in school: the figure is 11 per cent compared with 14 per cent last year. Talking to children on a regular basis is very much at the heart of our work in government and our Children's Plan.

Despite all this, there is no reason for complacency. Behind improving statistics on health, education and living standards, too many children are growing up in poverty and failing to thrive. Our Government have always recognised that some children face many social and economic problems, and that is why I am proud that we have lifted 600,000 children out of relative poverty, and are introducing legislation to end child poverty in Britain by 2020. This House will have the opportunity to debate that in full.

We want schools, children's services, health services and the police to engage parents and tackle the barriers to the learning, health and happiness of every child. That is why we are giving children's trusts a new strengthened leadership role and encouraging schools to become real centres of their communities. We have today published, with the Department of Health, the first ever children's health strategy. Healthy Lives, Brighter Futures is a long-term strategy to support children's and families' health. Our aim is to achieve world-class health outcomes and minimise health inequalities, by providing services of the highest quality.

We have heard of the importance of fiscal stimulus in this debate. Most people would agree that these programmes to help children and support families are essential but, of course, they also cost money. So it would be interesting to hear from the Opposition exactly where in a future Budget they might find cost savings in this area.

We agree with the authors of A Good Childhood that families are the bedrock of society, and we believe they must be given all the support they need in the face of the costs that that involves. The fiscal stimulus is as important for families as it is for business. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and we should provide support to all of them. A good family is one in which children are loved and valued. Yes, I will, as a Minister, say the word “love” from the Dispatch Box. We see the importance of children being loved and valued by their families. That is why we need to support families. We are taking action on many fronts to support mothers and fathers, including flexible working and paid maternity leave, and we have also introduced paternity leave.

The Government have invested £25 billion on early years and childcare services since 1997. All three and four year-olds are entitled to a free part-time early education place if their parents want one. I am so glad that Sure Start had a mention in this debate because I am not sure that it made it into the report. There are more than 2,900 Sure Start children's centres open, offering services to 2.3 million young children and their families. I, too, was glad to see Professor Judy Dunn's letter in the Guardian yesterday clarifying the report's views on working parents, which some in the media have interpreted in perhaps more mealy-mouthed terms than would have been ideal.

Central to the Government's vision of a good childhood is the provision of high quality education. Standards in schools have hugely improved since 1997, with results at 11, 14, 16 and 19 now at or about the highest ever levels, far fewer weaker or failing schools and more young people than ever before going on to university. As my noble friend Lord Layard suggests, schools are key. We have set out our vision for how we want schools to be the hub of their communities and we are calling them 21st-century schools. They will offer personalised, responsive education with excellent teaching and easy access to other services to support children and young people as they grow up. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we see this as enhancing the impact of the school in the community.

Our vision is that schools should offer a universal service to quickly identify and resolve additional needs at the centre of a system for early intervention and targeted support. The 21st-century schools will be a community resource, working with families alongside health and youth services, voluntary organisations and the police to contribute to the local community fully.

Many noble Lords mentioned child poverty. We have already made significant progress in tackling it, and the 2008 Budget announced further investment which takes us another step towards the 2010 target and beyond. Measures announced in the Budget 2007, the PBR 2007 and the Budget 2008 taken together will lift a further 500,000 children out of poverty. I have very generously been given a copy of the report The Taxation of Families. I know that we are not allowed to use props in the Chamber, but no doubt we will have a very interesting debate, when we come to the Child Poverty Bill, about how we can all work together in society to achieve our 2020 targets. No doubt the report will surface again then.

The issue of testing has emerged a number of times in this debate. Testing and assessment help heads and teachers to secure the progress of every child. It gives parents the educational information to choose the right school for their child and information on their child's progress, and allows the public to hold national and local government and governing bodies to account for the performance of the school system, which is key. The report advocates testing by stage, not age. My noble friend Lord Layard is right; the Children's Plan has signalled our intention to roll out single-level tests on a national basis. This, of course, is subject to positive evidence from the pilots and the endorsement of the regulator. All schools have progression targets that recognise the achievement of those things that move pupils great distances and focus attention on underachieving groups.

I hope perhaps that we are closer together than noble Lords might think. The OECD's PISA research, published in 2006, shows a correlation between improved school results and the availability of achievement data, even after accounting for sociodemographic factors. Testing is important, but we hear noble Lords' concerns.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, my noble friend Lord Layard, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many others talked about PSHE, an issue close to our hearts in this House. We have indeed made it clear that we will make PSHE statutory, and of course a great deal of thinking needs to go into how to do that properly.

The question of how we address schools which are not serving their communities as well as they should is being picked up by the National Challenge. We have discussed this previously, but we are investing £400 million in support over the next three years to make this possible.

I am told that I have one minute left; I thought that I had 20 minutes. We have heard an awful lot about the importance of family intervention from my noble friend Lady Massey. Today, as I have said, we launched the child health strategy. Importantly, we are looking at making available programmes to support mothers- and fathers-to-be in preparation for parenthood. That was an important issue in the report. Work is going forward on that.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about the importance of fathers. I agree that we need to do more to support them, and that is why we are working hard through the relationship summit. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is very committed to promoting the importance of fathers.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked some detailed questions. I know that he is very concerned about the quality of childcare. I hear his points and will write to him with a very detailed response.

Perhaps I may make a few closing remarks about the importance of mental health. We commissioned a review of child and adolescent mental health services. It reported very recently and showed that 62 per cent more funding has been going into this area, and we have seen a 14 per cent fall in recent times in the number of people waiting to be seen by CAMHS. We have established a national advisory council to keep an eye on the recommendations of that review, so that we cannot take our eye off the ball and can make the important developments required. We are delivering the social and emotional aspects of learning in schools around the country, and are putting £10 million into making that happen, along with the £60 million of targeted mental health resources in schools, which will be rolled out to every local authority soon.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester talked about the alcohol challenge in this country. We have seen the Chief Medical Officer's advice to parents on alcohol. We are very concerned that parents understand their role in helping children grow up with a sensible attitude to alcohol.

We should celebrate children and young people, as the most reverend Primate suggested, and all that they achieve. The Government will welcome this report and continue to have the very highest aspirations for all children in this country. We will back parents as they bring up their children, and I believe that we will unlock the talents of all our young people. With schools, children's services, the third sector and government all playing our part, we can ensure that every child has the very best start in life.

My Lords, I know that we are very short of time. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, which has ranged widely across some of the most complex questions facing our society, without avoiding the need to look at difficult, but specific, issues. We have avoided complacency on the one hand and excessive problematising of childhood on the other. Whether or not the analysis of excessive individualism stands the test of time, we shall wait to see, but I hope we shall continue to ask ourselves what that is telling us about the nature of the country we inhabit. I am grateful to everyone who has made a contribution. I hope that this debate will give us the courage, determination and resources to take forward the issues and the political will to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion withdrawn.

Railways: Investment


My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport on investment in new trains.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about new investment in our rail network.

The House will understand that, because of the significant and sensitive commercial nature of this announcement, it was necessary to make the information available to the markets in advance of informing the House.

Britain's rail network has been a remarkable success story over the past 10 years. There are more passengers using our trains than at any time since the Second World War—over a billion last year. We have taken decisive action to remedy the failings of privatisation and put in place a stable structure for the long term. We have delivered, to time and on budget, the United Kingdom's first high-speed railway line and, as I announced to the House last month, we have set up a new company, High Speed 2, which has already started work on planning for new high-speed rail services to the West Midlands, the north of England and Scotland.

In order to ensure that our railways remain resilient during the economic downturn and are well placed to support future economic growth, I am determined that we take the necessary steps now to invest in this critical part of Britain's infrastructure.

Our priority is to deal with overcrowding and to increase capacity to meet future demand. That is why we are investing over £20 billion in enhanced rail capacity and new and improved trains to accommodate these record passenger numbers.

Britain's £5.8 billion first high-speed line is now open, and from December this year commuters will be able to use high-speed rail services between London and Kent. Work has already started on the £16 billion Crossrail project, which will link Docklands, the City, the West End and Heathrow. We are upgrading the Thameslink service, bringing more frequent and longer trains to commuters on this critical route. Passengers on the west coast main line are now starting to see the benefits of an £8.8 billion upgrade, which has reduced journey times and delivered more frequent services.

I would like to inform the House today of what we are doing to invest in the next generation of long-distance trains and to make the United Kingdom a centre of excellence for European rail manufacturing.

This morning, I announced to the London Stock Exchange that a British-led consortium of John Laing, Hitachi and Barclays has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the contract to re-equip the east coast and Great Western main lines with new express trains. The high-speed trains that operate on these routes are up to 30 years old. While they have served passengers well, they now need to be replaced by more reliable, more efficient and greener trains which can carry more passengers. They will have longer coaches, allowing up to 20 per cent more seats on each train. Faster acceleration will allow journey times between London and major centres to be cut significantly, so a train leaving London will arrive in Leeds or Bristol 10 minutes sooner, Edinburgh 12 minutes sooner and Cardiff 15 minutes sooner.

Faster journey times mean that more frequent trains can be fitted on to the network, and improved reliability will mean that passengers face less disruption to their journeys. Moreover, the new trains will be up to 17 per cent lighter than their existing counterparts, increasing fuel efficiency. Modern braking systems will further drive down energy consumption.

This contract, worth some £7.5 billion, is the biggest single investment in intercity trains in a generation. It involves the construction and maintenance of up to 1,400 new vehicles. The first of these new trains will enter service in 2013 and, over the following years, they will provide high-quality journeys to passengers between London and destinations across the United Kingdom, including Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, the Thames Valley and south Wales.

The trains will also be able to run on both electrified and non-electrified lines. This means that through trains will be able to run from the electrified to the nonelectrified parts of the network. That is why I have announced, in parallel to the introduction of these trains, that we are developing plans for the electrification of the Great Western and Midland main lines. This will allow us to deliver the widest possible range of high-quality services for passengers.

This announcement is good news for UK jobs, as well as good news for rail passengers. As part of the contract, the winning consortium has agreed to make a significant inward investment into the United Kingdom in order to construct a new state-of-the-art train assembly and manufacturing facility. I expect that nearly three-quarters of the value of this order will be spent in the UK, benefiting the UK economy and providing UK jobs.

The exact location of the new factory remains subject to further negotiation by the company, but it has confirmed to me that it will be in the east Midlands, Yorkshire or the north-east. In addition, new maintenance depots will be built at Bristol, Reading, Doncaster, Leeds and in west London, with upgrades to existing depots throughout Great Britain. This means that new manufacturing jobs will be created and maintained in these regions, and many more jobs will be safeguarded across the country in the supply chain.

In all, I estimate that in the order of 12,500 long-term jobs will be created or safeguarded as a result of this announcement today.

As honourable and right honourable Members will be aware, Japan is one of the most advanced nations in the world in high-speed rail and new rail technology. Its trains have extraordinarily high levels of reliability and speed. Meanwhile, the rail industry is expanding right across Europe, with countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy investing in high-speed rail and new train fleets, as well as significant new opportunities in the countries of central and eastern Europe.

By bringing together UK and Japanese technology, design and manufacturing capability, we will give the UK a still stronger bridgehead into the fast-developing European and international rail markets in the same way as the entrance of Toyota, Honda and Nissan into the UK have done with the automotive industry. This will mean that the UK continues to develop as a centre of excellence in train manufacturing, enabling the country to become a key player as what was once a domestic rail industry now becomes increasingly an international one.

The Government's investment in the UK rail industry means that, in addition to this announcement, orders for a further 2,200 train carriages worth over £2.5 billion are already confirmed or in the pipeline. Today, I can confirm as well that the department is in advanced discussions with National Express East Anglia to provide 120 new carriages to renew and expand the train fleet operating on the West Anglia route between Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport. The preferred bidder for these trains is Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd, which plans to assemble these new carriages in Derby, safeguarding jobs there.

A further order worth £400 million—as part of the fiscal stimulus package announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—will be awarded shortly. Once again, Bombardier is well placed to win this order. There is another £2 billion order for 1,200 carriages for Thameslink, for which a preferred bidder will be announced later in the year.

These orders demonstrate that this Government are prepared to invest, even in difficult economic times, in improving our national infrastructure.

This announcement is real good news: good news to workers that up to 12,500 jobs will be created and safeguarded; good news for the economy that we are putting the UK back at the forefront of international manufacturing industry; good news for the regions that the Government are supporting significant inward investment; and good news for passengers that we are taking the steps necessary to improve their rail journeys”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Secretary of State's Statement in response to yesterday's announcement of our rail review by my honourable friend Theresa Villiers. We welcome the announcement of new investment but I have a few points to make and some pertinent questions.

The third paragraph of the Statement excited me somewhat. The remarkable success of the UK rail industry did not start in 1997; it started after privatisation in 1994. The Statement says:

“We have taken decisive action to remedy the failings of privatisation and put in place a stable structure”.

I accept that privatisation was difficult, and the initial solution was never going to be perfect, but it worked. Why else was there the success that the noble Lord's Statement refers to? However, the only strategic action by the Government that I can recall was to create the Strategic Rail Authority and then abolish it within three years.

The Statement rightly referred to the CTRL, now known as HS 1. The CTRL was announced in this House by, I think, my noble friend Lord Caithness, so it was started and planned by a Conservative Government.

The Statement refers to £20 billion of investment. That is very welcome, but can the Minister provide a spreadsheet to all noble Lords taking part, together with a copy for the Library, so that we all know how that £20 billion is made up?

The Statement indicates that faster journey times mean that more frequent trains can be fitted on to the network, resulting in more capacity. That must be correct but is it not true that the biggest problem is signalling constraints and the unreliability of the signalling system? What can be done to improve that?

We really need to know what we are talking about with the IEP. Apparently, these are lightweight, high-capacity, dual-powered trains of high efficiency. Indeed, I understand from the industry that the IEP has been “specced” to within an inch of its life by the DfT, no doubt with the benefit of large numbers of external consultants. I also understand that this new stock will be very similar to the Javelin trains now being tested for the HS 1. Presumably the diesel engines, generators, motors, the highly sophisticated control gear and the bogies will all come from Japan. Then the new UK factory will build the carriage body and fit the important major components to it. This build process is key to our correct understanding of the Statement. If my assumptions are wrong I am sure that the Minister will correct me because he would not want the House to be misled.

There is some concern about the future of the Bombardier works. What are its prospects? He mentioned a small order, but what is the long-term viability of the Bombardier works? There is confusion about how much rolling stock is on order, particularly the 1,300 carriages that we keep hearing about. Will the Minister be able to provide all noble Lords and, again, the Library with a comprehensive spreadsheet showing what is planned to be on order with Treasury approval, what is on order and what has recently been delivered? All noble Lords would find that very helpful. I hope that I have left plenty of meat on this bone for other noble Lords to pick on, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

My Lords, the noble Lord did so in a very mealy-mouthed fashion, if I may say so. This is the sort of sensible, countercyclical investment that we want. I am not saying that any investment is good, but if you are investing in long-term assets for the future of the country, we all hope that these will be put to full use in the future. I am also grateful for the announcement about the other train orders, which I understand are still in the pipeline and will secure the future of the Bombardier works which, together with the work it has from London Underground, should see it well suited for the future.

It is slightly dangerous to say that this will make us the centre of European rail excellence because there are such huge differences between the type of trains we can use here and those that are used on the continent. But I am not saying that we cannot find other markets for the products that we buy.

I noted in paragraph 10 of the Statement that the east coast and the great western main lines will be re-equipped. I wonder what the Midland main line will be equipped with if, as expected, the electrification of that line is announced. Are the trains from the east coast going there? What will happen? With reference to the high speed trains being up to 30 years old, it was coincidental that I asked the Minister yesterday in a Written Question whether consideration had been given to further use of these trains that are among the most popular in the railways in Britain, certainly since the war.

I thought that the time savings in paragraph 12 were very modest. If the Minister were to look back to a British Rail timetable of the mid-1980s, he would find that those time savings were there then. Since privatisation the timetable has been padded out for various reasons, and trains have been slowed down. I would hope to go even faster, which requires some proper strategic thinking about railway timetables, stopping patterns and maintaining high speed once it has been achieved. If trains keep stopping they use a lot of energy and lose a lot speed. Will the maximum speed of the new trains be 125 or 140 miles per hour? I assume that the trains will run on the existing signalling system, plus such modification as is made in the mean time.

In paragraph 16 I challenge the mention of bimodal trains. That should be at the back of the programme, as it were. If we are to electrify the Midland main line and the great western main line, there will be less and less use for a bimodal train. As far as I can tell there is nothing to prevent these new trains being hauled by a locomotive to the peripheral destinations, say Aberdeen or Penzance, although I imagine the people there do not like being described as being on the periphery.

I do not endorse the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, but now that the project is in the hands of Hitachi, Barclays and John Laing, will the department let the project go? I caution him against the fact that if you keep going back to alter a huge contract, the cost goes up and up. The contractors will take you to the cleaners.

I broadly welcome the Statement. I certainly welcome what was said about the other trains that are coming, and I am sure that almost everybody in the railway community will be very happy that such a large investment in addition to what has already been invested will be made available.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. He speaks with all the authority of a former rail manager, and I know that his remarks will have a wide resonance outside the House. I note the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I am not sure that it is particularly fruitful to have a debate about the history of privatisation, but I simply note that he himself described it as “difficult”. I regard that as the understatement of the day in your Lordships’ House. It was not the issue of the regulation of the industry which was one of the biggest that we had to sort out. I accept that it took us some time to sort it out because, to use his phraseology, it was in a very “difficult” state when we inherited it. He did not mention the collapse of Railtrack and the privatisation of the track authority which was one of the major problems with privatisation that took us some years to overcome.

I shall move on rapidly to the area of consensus—sorry, before doing so I must immediately refer to Aberdeen and Penzance otherwise I will subject to great criticism by my noble friends who come from those areas. Let me say immediately that I do not regard them as peripheral. Her Majesty’s Government regard Aberdeen and Penzance as integral parts of the United Kingdom, and we believe that they deserve a first-rate intercity train service. We intend to see that they continue to receive one. Indeed, part of the virtue of the super express train is its bimodal capacity, which will allow it to run to destinations off the electrified network, providing a first-class service to those destinations.

It is not only Aberdeen and Penzance. With the most ambitious electrification programme we could carry through in the next 10 to 15 years a significant part of the great western main line that is well short of Penzance will still be non-electrified. It is not simply a question of the ultimate destinations. Diversionary routes are also important. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has probably forgotten more about the east coast main line than I will ever know, but some of the routes to that and the west coast main line are non-electrified. The resilience of the network suffers considerably. Passengers know only too well of the inconvenience of weekend trains being cancelled and replaced by buses because it is not possible for electric trains to run on the non-electrified parts of the network. The bimodal trains will make it possible for trains on diversionary routes to use the alternative diesel capacity. I hope that that will bring us a lot closer to the seven day a week totally reliable network, which the nation expects and which the super express train will make it easier to deliver.

I shall deal with a few of the specific points. The noble Earl rightly said that there are a number of big rail orders out at the moment. There are the high-level output specification orders intended to secure 1,300 additional carriages, the super-express trains that I have announced today and the forthcoming Thameslink order. I would be very happy to provide him and other noble Lords who are interested with a spreadsheet detailing the orders that are currently placed or forthcoming and the timeframe in which they will be delivered so that it is easier to understand the procurement process as it will take place over the next five years.

In due course, we would like to be able to introduce in-cab signalling, as already happens on high-speed trains and which would increase the potential for faster trains and greater capacity on the network, but it will be some years before that is possible. The noble Earl referred to the specification for the super-express trains and said that he thought that it was too bureaucratic. I should stress to the House that the specification was carried through in very close collaboration with the industry. I held press conferences today with the Association of Train Operating Companies and Network Rail to explain to the proposals to the media. They both strongly applauded the decisions that have been taken and stressed how involved they had been in the making of those decisions. It is absolutely right that we work in close partnership with the people who are going to be running the trains and with the network operator, and we have done so.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned Bombardier. It has forward orders to build in excess of 2,000 rail carriages between 2009 and 2014, and the Stansted order is in addition to that. As the noble Lord observed, there are a number of significant orders coming down the pipeline, of which the most significant by far is the Thameslink order, which is worth in excess of £2 billion. Bombardier is competing for that order.

In summary, this is a good news Statement for the rail industry, rail passengers and British jobs.

My Lords, the Minister has not responded to my question about the materials management process, the shipping of components from Japan to the UK.

My Lords, I apologise. Seventy per cent of the value of this contract will be spent in the United Kingdom, which will give the noble Earl an indication of how significant the UK contribution will be. It is difficult to go through all the parts of the process of procuring and maintaining because it is very complex. Manufacturing is not one single process and the process of supplying components is very complex. It will include UK suppliers of components and high-value work, not simply low-value assembly work. Part of the reason why we are entering this contract naming this consortium as our preferred bidder is that we want to take advantage of Japanese technology, which is of a very high order, in rail technology.

My Lords, that would be an oversimplification. Exactly what will be carried out where will not be clear until we have completed the process of negotiating contracts and the consortium is able to spell out its plans in greater detail.

My Lords, I cannot find any more adjectives than the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, warmly to welcome what has been said today and the personal commitment of my noble friend and our mutual friend the Secretary of State to the rail industry and the future of rail. Most noble Lords probably remember only too well the 1950s and 1960s when there was nothing but decline. Above all, this is a statement of confidence in the future of rail, and I welcome that as well as all the detail.

This is clearly about providing services, but it is also about providing jobs. That is warmly welcomed. The Minister mentioned 12,500 jobs. He will know that historically a lot of these jobs have been in the Midlands in places such as Crewe and Derby. The Statement refers to 12,500 jobs being created and safeguarded. Can the Minister tell the House what proportion of those jobs he anticipates will be new jobs? If he cannot answer that now, it would be nice to hear some details later. Can he give any indication of the timescale? He has told us when he expects the new services to be provided, but does he have any information about the timescale of when we might see these new jobs—he said that a proportion of them will be new jobs—becoming available?

I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. As he rightly said, this is sensible countercyclical investment and underlines our confidence in the future of rail and our commitment to the future of the rail industry as it goes through a period of, as we see it, continued growth. I cannot give my noble friend a precise breakdown of the new and safeguarded jobs because there is not one. A lot of the suppliers in the rail industry are existing suppliers that will take on new orders as a result of this work, but a significant proportion of the jobs will be new. To make the obvious point, Hitachi does not have a manufacturing facility in the UK, so it will be creating new jobs to establish that manufacturing facility. As my noble friend also rightly said, the Midlands, particularly the East Midlands, is a strong centre for rail manufacture and is one of the three possible sites for the new manufacturing facility.

New jobs will be created very soon and will ramp up rapidly in 2011, 2012 and 2013 with production running for several years thereafter. We will see the jobs effect of this announcement soon, and it will be wholly beneficial to the regions concerned.

My Lords, I endorse the welcome given to the announcement by my noble friend Lord Attlee, but I have a couple of questions about the Great Western route, on which I have been a frequent traveller for 35 years or so in the course of my parliamentary duties. The Minister spoke about electrification. Will there also be improvements to the track? He did not respond to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about whether trains will be 140 miles an hour or 125 miles an hour but, particularly if the answer is 140 miles an hour, the track will also need attention. Over the time that I have been travelling, it has got much more difficult to write on the train, which reflects the state of the track. The greater speed and electrification perhaps give an opportunity for improvements in that direction.

On the frequency of services and pressure, it is my impression that the real pressure on the Great Western, for instance, in the Bristol area where I come from—I do not regard Penzance as peripheral as the Liberal Democrats apparently do—the real pressure is on local trains rather than long-distance trains, which this announcement is about, particularly local trains in peak hours because there is more and more local commuting by train, which is desirable in itself, but not when the carriages are very full.

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s broad welcome for the Statement. The trains will go up to 125 miles an hour, not 140 miles an hour. I am sorry that I did not answer that point earlier. The noble Lord is right that improvements can be made to the track. Significant improvements are already in the offing because of a big investment that will take place at Reading, a key bottleneck on the Great Western main line, including a substantial rebuilding of the station. There will also be improvements at the eastern end of the line as part of the electrification that will be necessary to extend the Crossrail line to Maidenhead. However, if there were to be substantial electrification, it would also involve track work, so we would expect to see upgrading of the track capability.

My Lords, I intervene only to ask the Minister if he can give me an assurance. In my experience serving on the Merits Committee—this is something that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt raised—there was a steady stream of statutory instruments allowing dispensation for not reaching the standards for disability access in screens, announcements, loos and other things to make them disability friendly. Can he assure us that that stream of government acknowledgements that we are not meeting the targets that we have set will stop with the new trains? If not, it is about time that we did.

My Lords, of course we intend that the trains will be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. Indeed, taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, to which I did not reply, about what might happen with the existing 125s, part of the reason why they need to be replaced is that they are not sufficiently compliant. Significant modifications, which would be very expensive, would be necessary to make them compliant beyond the deadline of 2020 set for them to be so compliant. It is not impossible that such changes could be made, but they would require significant investment which train operating companies would need to be prepared to entertain. I hope that we will not be seeing the steady stream of requests for exemptions from modifications that the noble Lord mentioned.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a victim of Great Western’s sometimes aspirational timetabling. Can the Minister tell us when the electrification improvement begin, and when will it end?

My Lords, I cannot, because we are still analysing the business case for electrification of the Great Western main line. Until we have done that, we cannot indicate timescales.

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Statement and am especially pleased that we have long-term investment and the opportunity to create much-needed jobs in future. In his capacity as the Minister responsible for the rail network, perhaps my noble friend can slow the pace down from high-speed to slower paces and consider the preservation and heritage railways. If we are looking to create jobs in the short term, perhaps we may persuade his department to consider some of the bids made by a range of the heritage and conservation societies for cash to assist in extending their networks.

I think in particular of the Bluebell Railway, which is endeavouring to extend to East Grinstead, which would make a link with the major network. For a relatively modest capital investment, if money were available, that would produce a substantial number of jobs: primarily labour is required to recover disused railways, rather than capital. If we are looking for quick hits using the fiscal stimulus package, I suggest that we consider some of the bids for lottery money in its various capacities. They go through a sieving and examination procedure—this applies not only to railways but in many areas—we could identify opportunities for relatively modest capital investment producing many jobs very quickly. We could do that for the railways.

My Lords, I am a great fan of the Bluebell Railway, and of our other preserved railways, which do a great job in maintaining our railway heritage and in acting as highly successful tourist attractions, but I fear that my responsibilities in respect of the existing network, which has onerous demands on investment, are such that it is not likely that we will be able also to fund improvements to preserved railways. I note my noble friend’s interest and if he can find any spare cash, I will bear his thoughts in mind.

Children: Social Networking Sites


Moved By

To call attention to the growth in the use of social networking internet sites by children and the adequacy of safeguards to protect their privacy and interests; and to move for papers.

My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate today. It is a particular pleasure to have followed the right reverend Prelate's debate on A Good Childhood, as the topics that I want to cover follow from some of the themes covered in your Lordships' House already.

The timing is also apposite in that the day before yesterday was the sixth European Safer Internet Day, although I suspect that many of your Lordships, in common with most citizens of Europe, may have missed that fact. My noble friend Lord West was originally scheduled to respond to this debate. However, I understand that other duties have now meant that his place is to be taken, very ably, by my noble friend Lord Brett. However, had my noble friend been responding as initially planned, he would have been able to bring some additional, first-hand knowledge to our discussion today. If the Sunday Times is to be believed—and all of your Lordships will have views on that as a general principle—my noble friend had some unfortunate experiences when he placed his profile on Facebook a couple of years ago, receiving what the Sunday Times describes as an avalanche of suggestive comments of the “Hello, sailor” variety.

In this debate today, I want to focus on the position of children and young people. My noble friend Lord West probably does not fall into that category—nor, I fear, do many of your Lordships speaking in this debate—but I am sure that we all recognise that there has been massive growth in the use of social networking sites by children and young people during the past few years. According to Ofcom, virtually all—99 per cent—of children and young people aged eight to 17 use the internet. In 2005, the average time spent online by children was 7.1 hours per week. By 2007, it had almost doubled to 13.8 hours per week. Almost half—49 per cent—of those aged eight to 17 have set up their own profile on a social networking site. My rough calculation suggests that more than 3 million children and young people in this country under the age of 18 have set up their own profiles.

That should not necessarily horrify or shock us. Indeed, we should recognise that social networking and video sharing sites, online games, iPods and internet-enabled mobile phones are now an integral part of youth culture. While many adults may worry that their offspring are wasting precious hours online, children and young people see online media as the means to extend friendships, explore interests, experiment with self-expression and develop their knowledge and skills.

However, to use the analogy of the inquiry conducted by the Science and Technology Committee into personal internet security, in the same way that young children are taught how to cross the road, but at the same time safety features are built into cars and traffic laws regulate unsafe driving, we need to make sure that our children and young people are protected when they make their way navigating the internet.

As we know, there are real perils for the unwary. Children and young people have been the victims of sexual predators as a result of information they have revealed about themselves on social networking sites; there are increasing problems of cyber-bullying; security weaknesses on sites have led to serious privacy infringements; and young people have discovered the hard way that the permanence of information posted in public cyberspace may not only be embarrassing in later life but also mean that employment offers or university places are not forthcoming.

The Information Commissioner's Office provides examples of young people who have faced unintended consequences of social networking. There was the 16 year-old girl who was held responsible for some bullying lyrics about another 16 year-old posted on a site that she had been involved with. Then there was the widely reported case of Rachel Bell, a 17 year-old from Durham, who was arrested in April 2007 after her family home was ruined by gatecrashers responding to a party advertisement on MySpace. More than £20,000 worth of damage was done to her parents' home after she allegedly advertised the party on a friend's profile. She, however, maintained that the profile was hacked by classmates who invited teenagers from across the UK to the party.

In the United States, there was the tragic case of 13 year-old Megan Meier who hung herself in October 2006 after receiving a message in her MySpace inbox which said, “The world would be a better place without you”. The “teenaged boy” who sent the message, Josh Evans, turned out to be a fake identity created by Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Megan's and a neighbour of the Meier family. Ms Drew, as well as her 13-year-old daughter and her 18-year-old assistant, used the profile to trick Megan into thinking that “Josh” liked her before sending a series of hateful messages. Megan, who had a history of depression, was targeted by Ms Drew in retaliation for her allegedly spreading rumours about Drew's daughter.

Only last week, an 18 year-old from Wisconsin, Anthony Stancl, was arrested, having posed as a girl on Facebook and persuaded his classmates to send him nude pictures of themselves. He then blackmailed the boys into engaging in sex acts with him, warning them that their pictures would be posted on the internet and e-mailed to friends if they refused. Seven boys were reported to have had sexual encounters with him, the youngest being 15 years old. Stancl allegedly had more than 300 nude photographs of his classmates on his computer.

As I have said, these are real perils and they are taking place in what is for many children and young people their zeitgeist, their social environment. It is clear that they are taking place in an environment that most young people assume is safe. The Information Commissioner's Office conducted a survey of 2,000 young people using social networking sites. It found that 60 per cent had not considered the consequence of the material that they posted remaining online and being seen by other people in the future. Colleges, universities and potential employers use the internet to find information about those who apply for a job or a place in college.

It follows therefore that throughout their education, children should be taught digital citizenship, so that they can make the most of the internet, but also recognise and deal with any dangers that they may encounter. As most parents acknowledge that their children are more internet-literate than they are, there also needs to be a serious effort in parallel to help parents, and perhaps all adults, to keep up with the rapid development of the internet and digital social media. At the same time, privacy laws should be strengthened with an age-related component specifically giving enhanced protection to the data relating to or provided by children and young people.

The US Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, while not perfect, provides a model that has required a number of US-based companies operating on the internet to improve their standards significantly. COPPA requires parental consent before personal information for a child of 12 or under can be provided online. This of course exempts most of the big social networking sites, which stipulate a minimum age of 13. But, as I will discuss later, systems for verifying the age that people claim to be are inadequate or non-existent. Moreover, some of the methods used to obtain parental consent are fairly flawed as well. In some instances, e-mail approval from an e-mail address that is controlled by the child has been known to suffice.

Nevertheless, COPPA has had an impact, usually with sites that are commercial ones marketing products, although often with social networking type features. For example, Sony BMG Music Entertainment was fined $1 million in December for collecting information from 30,000 children on 196 websites without parental consent. These sites related to musical artistes and labels. To register for those sites, Sony required users to submit personal information, including date of birth. But, having registered, those children were then able to interact and exchange messages with other fans, whatever their age.

That demonstrates why there should be higher expectations on those responsible for social networking sites or those sites with a social networking component. This should be especially the case for those sites aimed at children or where there are a significant number of users who are children and young people. These higher expectations should include prominent and clear safety information warning about potential dangers. Sites such as provide a good guide on internet safety and similar user-friendly, age-appropriate guidance should be an integral part of all processes for registering a profile.

There should be simple systems for reporting abuse, perhaps a prominent button on every page. The site should make it clear that inappropriate or threatening behaviour is not acceptable on that site. The “report abuse” facility should be monitored 24/7 and there should be real-time links to police and law enforcement. This readiness to co-operate with the police should not merely be that issues of abuse will be reported to them automatically where appropriate, but that there should also be a willingness to co-operate with requests from the police or law enforcement agencies. In practice, this means that all such sites should have staff available at any time to respond to police inquiries and to intervene immediately in an emergency if abuse is taking place.

Critical also is the monitoring of content. Sites should have increased numbers of suitably vetted moderators patrolling areas of sites frequented by young people. In particular, social networking sites must review discussion groups and other places where content is published to find harmful subject matter, hate speech and illegal behaviour, and delete that content when it is found. Moreover, sites must find ways to review every image or video that is hosted on their site, deleting those that are inappropriate. In addition, all sites should offer user-friendly systems enabling people to ignore and erase unwanted comments and to erase permanently their own profiles. Social networking sites, as with any other holder of sensitive personal data, must also be under a duty to maintain a high level of server security to prevent hacking and unauthorised access to personal information.

Earlier, I mentioned age verification. Current systems are inadequate and are easily circumnavigated. Yet the problems cannot be insurmountable. Urgent work must now be undertaken by internet and technology companies to find and agree a simple, efficient and cost-effective means of achieving age verification on the internet, to prevent underage persons accessing inappropriate sites and older people passing themselves off as under-18.

The absence of such an agreed solution does not, however, absolve the sites from their responsibilities. Where there are minimum age requirements, some effort should be made to enforce them, and steps should be taken to identify and remove underage users who have misrepresented their age to gain access. In addition, there should be protection for younger users from uninvited communications. Social networking sites should implement default privacy settings that prevent adults contacting those under 16 who they do not already know in the physical world.

Many of those who run social networking sites are alive to the problems and are working hard to conform to best practice. They work hard to co-operate with the police and are proactive in trying to protect children and young people. There have been well publicised initiatives such as the removal by MySpace of the profiles of 90,000 known sex offenders. The significance of this is that those 90,000 were readily identified once MySpace tried, which happened only after paedophile teacher Mark Little was jailed a month ago at Chester Crown Court for five and a half years for abusing a 14 year-old girl he had groomed partly through that site. The reality will be that most paedophiles are unlikely to be very open or truthful about their identity.

While some sites are being proactive, many are not. The “mere conduit” defence highlighted in the Personal Internet Security report I mentioned earlier is a case in point. Some providers, such as YouTube, argue that they are not liable for any offensive or illegal material because they do not look for it. They are in effect hiding behind the 2002 e-commerce regulations, which provide a defence for network operators against legal liability for the consequences of traffic delivered through their networks. This was not, I am sure, the intention of those drafting the regulations but, whether it was or not, it now needs to be looked at.

The reality is that these issues cannot be ignored any longer. With 3 million young people in this country actively engaged in social networking on the internet and with the rapid developments in technology, children and young people need to be equipped to deal with the modern world and encouraged to operate safely within it. I began by talking about the need for all children to be given schooling in e-citizenship, but I have also talked about the responsibility of those who provide services on the internet as well. Both approaches must move forward hand in hand. There is no simple, single solution. Nor must we forget that those who are vulnerable will probably be vulnerable in any environment, whether electronic or not.

Nevertheless, we all have a responsibility. The Government have a responsibility in terms of the regulatory framework and requirements of the educational curriculum; industry and service providers must take more responsibility for safety warnings and the way in which they organise, secure and monitor their services; and, of course, parents too have a responsibility.

The internet and the modern means of communication and interaction that it has created provide an exciting world in which children can grow and learn. The digital world is creating new opportunities for children and young people. It captures their enthusiasm because it provides new means for extending their social world, and because it facilitates self-directed learning and allows independence. That enthusiasm must not be stifled, nor must it be strangled by overweighty regulatory restrictions, but at the same time, sensible safety precautions must be in place. I hope that this debate will help to take forward the discussion on what needs to be done and how to strike that balance.

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on drawing attention to this timely problem. The social networking site Facebook turned five years old last week. Arguably, it marks a milestone in a progressive and highly significant change in our culture as tens to hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide, including the very young, are signing up for friendship through a screen. Other noble Lords may follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and speak on specific regulatory measures that may be taken to ensure that children come to no physical harm. We hope that personal safety and privacy is soon to be improved in the light of the recommendations made in the report on personal internet security from the Science and Technology Committe and in the Byron Review Action Plan. However, as a neuroscientist, I think that there are still two more basic and, if you like, brain-based questions that ultimately need to be addressed. First, why are social networking sites growing? Secondly, what features of the young mind, if any, are being threatened by them? Only when we have insights into these two issues can we devise more general safeguards, rooted not so much in regulation as in education, culture and society.

I turn to the first question, surely the most telling of all. What precisely is the appeal of social networking sites? First, there is the simple issue of the constraints of modern life, where unsupervised playing outside or going for walks is now perceived as too dangerous. A child confined to the home every evening may find at the keyboard the kind of freedom of interaction and communication that earlier generations took for granted in the three-dimensional world of the street. But even given a choice, screen life can still be more appealing. As Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, suggests:

“Building a Facebook profile is one way that individuals can identify themselves, making them feel important and accepted”.

Continuing that train of thought, I recently had a fascinating conversation with a young devotee who proudly claimed to have 900 friends. Clearly, there would be no problem here to satisfying that basic human need to belong, to be part of a group, as well as the ability to experience instant feedback and recognition-at least from someone, somewhere, 24 hours a day.

At the same time this constant reassurance—that you are listened to, recognised, and important—is coupled with a distancing from the stress of face-to-face, real-life conversation. Real-life conversations are, after all, far more perilous than those in the cyber world. They occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses, and they require a sensitivity to voice tone, body language and perhaps even to pheromones, those sneaky molecules that we release and which others smell subconsciously. Moreover, according to the context and, indeed, the person with whom we are conversing, our own delivery will need to adapt. None of these skills are required when chatting on a social networking site.

Although it might seem an extreme analogy, I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction. In the words of one user:

“The fact that you can't see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way that you might not be comfortable with. You become less conscious of the individuals involved (including yourself), less inhibited, less embarrassed and less concerned about how you will be evaluated”.

It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world. This so-called “plasticity” has been most famously illustrated by London taxi drivers, who as we know need to remember all the streets of the city, and whose brain scans correspondingly revealed in one study that the part of the brain related to memory is bigger in them than it is in the rest of us.

One of the most exciting concepts in neuroscience is that all experience, every single moment, leaves its mark almost literally on your brain. So you have a unique configuration of brain cell circuits, even if you are a clone—an identical twin. It is this evolving personalisation of the brain that we could view as the mind, and it is this “mind” that could therefore be radically changed by prolonged exposure to a new and unprecedented type of ongoing environment, that of the screen.

So, we come to the second basic question: what might now be in jeopardy? First, I would suggest that it is attention span. If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention deficit disorder. It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for ADHD.

Related to this change might be a second area of potential difference in the young 21st century mind—a much more marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, whenever you play a computer game, you can always just play it again; everything you do is reversible. The emphasis is on the thrill of the moment, the buzz of rescuing the princess in the game. No care is given for the princess herself, for the content or for any long-term significance, because there is none. This type of activity, a disregard for consequence, can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling or compulsive eating. Interestingly, and as an aside, one study has shown that obese people are more reckless in gambling tasks. In turn, the sheer compulsion of reliable and almost immediate reward is being linked to similar chemical systems in the brain that may also play a part in drug addiction. So we should not underestimate the “pleasure” of interacting with a screen when we puzzle over why it seems so appealing to young people; rather, we should be paying attention to whether such activities may indeed result in a more impulsive and solipsistic attitude.

This brings us to a third possible change—in empathy. One teacher of 30 years’ standing wrote to me that she had witnessed a change over the time she had been teaching in the ability of her pupils to understand others. She pointed out that previously, reading novels had been a good way of learning about how others feel and think, as distinct from oneself. Unlike the game to rescue the princess, where the goal is to feel rewarded, the aim of reading a book is, after all, to find out more about the princess herself.

Perhaps we should therefore not be surprised that those within the spectrum of autism are particularly comfortable in the cyber world. The internet has even been linked to sign language, considered as beneficial for autistic people as sign language proved for the deaf. Of course, we do not know whether the current increase in autism is due more to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism, or whether it can—if there is a true increase—be in any way linked to an increased prevalence among people of spending time in screen relationships. Surely it is a point worth considering.

Finally, I draw your Lordships’ attention to a fourth issuer: identity. It seems strange that in a society recoiling from the introduction of ID cards, we are at the same time enthusiastically embracing the possible erosion of our identity through social networking sites. One 16 year-old intern who worked in my lab last summer summed it up as follows:

“I can see that Facebook makes you think about yourself differently when all your private thoughts and feelings can be posted on the internet for all to see. Are we perhaps losing a sense of where we ourselves finish and the outside world begins?”.

With fast-paced, instant screen reactions, perhaps the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others; hence the baffling current preoccupation with posting an almost moment-by-moment, flood-of-consciousness account—I believe it is called Twitter—of your thoughts and activities, however banal.

In summary, I suggest that social networking sites might tap into the basic brain systems for delivering pleasurable experience. However, these experiences are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.

When talking about safeguards, surely we need also to think about safeguarding the mindset of the next generation so that they may realise their potential as fully-fledged adult human beings. Of course we cannot turn back the clock, nor would that be any solution to maximising the individual’s potential in this new century. However, surely the Government could consider investing in some kind of initiative, the goal of which would be the identification of realistic alternatives—be it in the classroom, on the screen, in conjunction with the media, or in society as a whole—for developing a sense of privacy and identity and, above all, a real appreciation of friendship.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey on securing this debate and on introducing it so clearly and so graphically. I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, with all her expertise—I was struck by the phrase “sneaky chemical molecules”—and she has given us a great deal to think about, much of which I find quite scary and depressing. But there we are.

The debate is very timely for me as I have just introduced into your Lordships' House a Private Member's Bill, the Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification) Bill referred to by my noble friend Lord Harris. This is not the same as social networking, but the two issues have some common aspects which I shall discuss in a minute. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also mentioned the previous debate today on the Good Childhood inquiry, in which I took part. It is interesting that, in a wide-ranging discussion, the influences of the media and the internet were included as part of how children nowadays spend their time.

The Bill was first introduced by Margaret Moran MP in another place. A meeting on the Bill was held in December last year to discuss age verification and issues were raised which are relevant to today's deliberations. First, the internet is a wonderful thing. It is a great tool for education and communication but it has its dangers, particularly for children. We have as a society a responsibility to protect children; the welfare of the child is paramount, as the United Nations convention states. Parents have a difficult, if not impossible, job to police it and to know what their children are doing on the internet. Surely if something is illegal in the real world, then we need to find a way to provide similar protection in the virtual world, and yet, as others have said, legislation is limited.

There is also the issue of international sites. In the case of online child pornography, a self-regulation approach has worked well, even without legislation. So how should we provide safeguards and can government departments combine their efforts to do so? In April last year, Ofcom carried out a study, mentioned by my noble friend, which showed that 49 per cent of all children and young people between the ages of eight and 17 use a social networking site. It is highly likely that this number has increased dramatically by now. Social networking has become, very rapidly, the dominant internet site used by young people. It is easy, it is exciting and it is what everyone does.

Social networking sites have not represented a major technological shift in the internet but have brought together, in a single website, many components which had previously been used separately. It is possible to integrate e-mail with instant messaging and put them alongside favourite photographs, videos or your favourite music. It is quite brilliant and gives the user a personal profile which can be shared.

The internet has become one of the major ways in which young people communicate. Members of your Lordships' House may be involved in this kind of technology. Indeed, I note from my computer today that we have our own social networking site, which seems to be called Twitter. We can call up Tweets, which link us to the latest reports and inquiries, and remind us about parliamentary business. Will we end up with attention deficit disorder or become reckless gamblers?

I used to be sceptical of any communication via technology. I now use e-mail where I once would have communicated much more by letter or phone. I use the internet for information, and I love it. I am very attached to my Blackberry. I do not use Facebook, MySpace, Bebo or whatever else things are called, but young people communicate a lot via social networking sites. Young people have an internet community. But the information is personal and therefore carries risks. When you put something on the internet, you may be putting it there for ever and you have no control over it. You do not know where the information might end up now or in the future.

A substantial number of employment agencies have acknowledged that they now routinely trawl the internet for information about prospective employees. Imagine some of the scenes that may be on a website photograph. Imagine your most embarrassing moment being recorded for a future employer to find. Imagine naked or drunken scenes which you would rather forget and disown. This is all shocking stuff. Prospective employers or student admissions staff have in theory no right to invade private material of this kind, but they can if they want to. There should surely be a health warning on websites.

Similarly, we know that children have put personal information about themselves on a website which has been picked up by sexual predators or bullies with dire consequences. Bullying on the internet is now, to my surprise, one of the most common forms of bullying. In some cases, children have put on the internet highly sexualised images of themselves. Those are, in fact, child pornography and therefore technically illegal. In the USA, children have been prosecuted for this, whereas in the UK the police have so far issued only cautions.

As I have said before, nearly all the sites allow material to be marked as private. However, not everyone understands the consequences of making or not making something private. This message needs to be reinforced strongly. By and large, the larger social networking sites accept that they have a responsibility to do this, and to work with parents and schools to help make the internet a safer place. However, I am not sure that some of the smaller sites do it, which is worrying. In programmes of personal, social and health education and citizenship, schools might include a section on internet safety and involve parents in being aware of the hazards.

Early last year, the Home Office published its guidance on social networking sites. Later, Tanya Byron looked at the issue independently and reported in September. The House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport also investigated how social networking sites were working. We know what needs to be done, but there seems to be no obvious sign that things are happening fast enough. The new UK Council for Child Internet Safety, created as a result of the Byron report, is only now getting under way. Its actions will create great interest and scrutiny, and I am sure that your Lordships will follow it closely.

There is great public anxiety about the complexities of the internet, much of it justified. The basis of policy on the internet in the UK has been self-regulation, which may or may not produce results. If it does not, the Government will surely have to step in with more direct measures. We need action on this. I again ask the Minister how he sees government departments collaborating—for example, the Department of Health, the DCSF and the Home Office—to ensure that our children are better prepared to use social networking sites with caution, and how they can be better protected against their more dangerous aspects.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for initiating this important and timely debate. I would also like to say how much I have enjoyed, and learnt from, the three speeches so far.

I put my name down to speak in the debate because I was part of the Science and Technology Committee that looked at personal internet security, although it coincided with an extended visit to Australia and New Zealand so I felt that I was a bit of a passenger. Nevertheless, I found it a fascinating and important investigation. I thought that, since I was on that committee and knew a little about it, I would probably be able to cope with the debate.

Looking at the issues concerned, I realised that although the report was published on Friday 10 August 2007, a great deal had happened in the 18 months since then. Indeed, it is two years almost exactly to the date since the committee heard evidence from the police service the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and from the Children's Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, which gave extensive input to our deliberations. In particular, during that period we have witnessed the rise and rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and YouTube, and the increasing accessibility of these sites via the 3G generation of mobile phones and iPods.

The importance of these developments was brought home by two reports which have already been mentioned: the Ofcom research report, published last April, Social Networking, containing a massive amount of very interesting information, to which we have been referred, and the report prepared for the Prime Minister by Tanya Byron on children and new technology, published in early April last year.

The degree to which young people use social networking sites has been stressed. Ofcom found that almost 50 per cent of our 8 to 17-year olds use these sites, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. It is probably much more than that because these figures were gathered through a survey that is now more than a year old. There has been an explosion in the use of such sites by young people. There are 6 million young people in the 8 to 17 cohort, so probably somewhere in the region of 4 to 5 million young people are using social networking sites.

Interestingly, although there is an age bar on some sites—for example, in MySpace it is 13—according to the Ofcom report, 27 per cent of 8 to 11 year-olds said that they were active users of social networking sites. Therefore, a lot of very young children are using them, although many use child-accessible sites. Bebo, in particular, is their favourite site, but they regularly post material on YouTube.

Why are children so attracted by the sites? Essentially, it is to keep up with their friends, is it not? Parents used to complain about the amount of time my generation spent on the telephone. Now, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, indicated, that time is spent by these young people—13 hours a week on average—on computers and the internet.

The advantage over the telephone is that you do not just share information with one person; you share it with your whole group of friends simultaneously. You can tell them what you want, or you can reply how you want; you can post or text photos, video clips and video conversations. In effect, young people are doing quite a lot of the video-conferencing that we find slightly awkward, but which is beginning to come naturally to them. They are simultaneously playing games online with other children. A whole range of games is offered to them.

Children and adults get a lot of pleasure from this activity. The Ofcom research indicated that the majority of adult and child users found it a fun and easy leisure activity and were very positive about its benefits. Perhaps because of this the downside risks in relation to privacy and safety are very far from most people's thoughts. Another interesting aspect of this is posting profiles and the degree to which people can use those profiles in a sort of Walter Mitty sense, in so far as they aspire to have a different profile. However, those who use social networking sites must register, and that involves setting up a profile. How much information is posted on the profile is up to the individual, but many children readily register their name, school, address, telephone number and date of birth, post photographs and video clips and describe their likes, dislikes and favourite things. As they get older, they talk about sex, sexual attitudes and, indeed, sexual practices. As I say, the profile is open to all those registered as friends, but unless it is specifically limited to friends or to a particular group by privacy controls it will be open to anyone.

The Ofcom research indicated that 41 per cent of children in the eight to 17 year-old group had set controls to make their profiles visible to anybody. American research has revealed that one-third of sites are regularly visited by strangers. Twenty-two per cent of young adults in the 16 to 24 year-old group deliberately use profiles to communicate with people whom they do not know. There is a certain thrill in communicating with new people and making new friends. Eleven per cent of teenage girls said that they had been contacted via social networking sites by strangers who made them feel uncomfortable.

The risks of sexual harassment and sexual grooming of young people, cyber-stalking and exposure to inappropriate material have been described. If no stops are put on a computer or a mobile phone, violent websites and websites with sexually explicit material can be accessed. The noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, mentioned violence through games and the changed behaviour that can result from that. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned cyber-bullying, particularly through the posting of photographs and comments. It is interesting to note that 54 per cent of the 18 to 24 year-old group said that other people had posted photographs on their social networking sites without their consent. Cyber-bullying applies to children and teachers. Indeed, there is a big issue of cyber-bullying of teachers.

Given these risks, why do people not use privacy controls? The Byron report lists four main reasons. The first is a lack of awareness of the risks. Many parents do not have the technological capabilities of their children, particularly teenage children. Those children are far ahead of their parents in terms of digital technology and can use and manipulate activities on site. It is well known that, even where parents invest in parental controls, they often ask the children to set them up for them, and that the children can manipulate those controls. As I say, for young people who see this as such a fun and easy activity, the risks seem very far away. Parents perceive the risks but for young people the activity is fun. They want to get on with it and not worry about tomorrow.

Secondly, there is a lack of awareness of what controls there are and how to manipulate them. Parents, especially when confronted by a proliferation of access points, are confused and find it very difficult to know what controls to use. I stress that it is one thing to have parental controls on the home computer but how on earth do you cope with the proliferation of mobile telephony that now hits us?

Thirdly, it is assumed that responsibility for controlling access to content lies with the site provider. A great many parents, and users of sites for that matter, assume that this is the case and learn the hard way that it is not. Lastly, and by no means least, young people are overconfident that they can handle and manage any such risks. They see themselves as masters of the universe in this area. It is daring to take risks: allowing strangers to see and comment on your profile is a risky thing, but what fun. This is the difficulty one faces.

So what are we going to do about it? I looked back at our report, and I was very struck by this quotation from Professor Jonathan Zittrain, of the Oxford Internet Institute. He referred to,

“the way that the Internet was built to be able to carry data from one arbitrary point to another without any gate-keeping in the middle. It has been a wonderful feature, so-called end-to-end or network neutrality. This design principle means that any desire to control the flow of data, including data which might be harmful data, is not very easy to effect on today's Internet”.

Let me follow that up with a quotation from the Byron report:

“The internet is a vast, many-to-many network”—

that picks up what Professor Zittrain said—

“which allows users to communicate freely with others all over the world-ideas can be spread quickly, cheaply and freely. One consequence of this is that there is no obvious single point at which editorial control can be exercised. This means it is very difficult for national Governments to reduce the availability of harmful and inappropriate material. However, the majority of material accessed by internet users is hosted by a relatively small number of highly popular sites, the rest of it occupying a ‘long tail' of less popular material. This means that we should focus our efforts on reducing the availability of harmful and inappropriate material in the most powerful part of the internet”.

This is indeed where we are going in terms of controls. Following the Byron report, we have seen the setting-up of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. The emphasis, first, is on the availability of material on the most popular sites, with better regulation of user-generated content, and the development of a voluntary code of practice.

Secondly, the emphasis is on raising parental awareness of their responsibility in managing their children's access to websites, in making sure that children do not reveal personal and contact details. It needs to be made much easier for parents to know what controls there are and to learn how to operate them, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.

Lastly, children must be empowered to manage risk. As in the off-line world, one cannot eliminate risk completely; therefore one must build up resilience in children and educate them about the risks and how to minimise them. Criminal activities continue to be policed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, run by the police, which has been, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, very successful. The degree to which it has run down paedophile rings and helped children has been impressive.

One aspect was the rolling-out of an education programme. Last night, I was at a governors’ meeting at a primary school where I am a governor, and I was questioning them about internet security. I discovered that, where there is cyber-bullying, they get in touch with the local community police officer. They have a parent liaison worker, who works with the police officer. Then they get the parents in and talk to them about it. All of this struck me as a rather sensible approach to cyber-bullying.

However, we need to consider whether we are doing enough. One of the strongest conclusions in our report raised some questions about where we are going at the moment:

“The current assumption that end-users should be responsible for security”—

in other words, parents and children should be responsible for their own security—

“is inefficient and unrealistic. We therefore urge the Government and Ofcom to engage with the network operators and Internet Service Providers to develop higher and more uniform standards of security within the industry. In particular we recommend the development of a BSI-approved kite mark for secure Internet services. We further recommend that this voluntary approach should be reinforced by an undertaking that in the longer term an obligation will be placed upon ISPs to provide a good standard of security as part of their regulated service”.

Is the voluntary code of practice under the new UK Council for Child Internet Safety for children enough? Do we not need to go further? Are we doing enough in schools? Schools are safe environments, and their ICT suites are all kept very clean, but kids get outside that environment. Are we doing enough to educate children to make them resilient? Who has responsibility for educating the parents? We could use schools, and there was talk in the Tanya Byron report about using the extended schools initiative. That has not yet been rolled out very far, so who has responsibility for educating parents and how do we propose to do it?

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for giving the House this excellent opportunity to discuss what for us is an unusual subject. It is obvious that there have been a number of reviews and reports, but I was struck by the noble Lord's speech, because it almost entirely concentrated on the hazards that come from this internet siting for young people. We have all read and we all know from the papers what happens when things go horribly wrong, as they do, and children are completely misled, not only by adults but by their own friends. There are many areas here where we all feel extremely uncomfortable about the use of the internet, however/ miraculous it is.

Listening to the debate, I felt rather thankful that I had moved beyond the days when my chief worry was about what the children were watching on the television that they had managed to get from the video shop marked, “Not to be seen by the under-18s”. They managed to bluff their way through that to look at some unsuitable films that I then had to retrieve. This is a long way from that, and it makes it much more difficult, as many speakers have said, to have parental control and overview of what children are doing.

I was much taken by the insightful contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, which was unusual and different from those that we might have had from others. It was said somewhere that the noble Baroness was a thinker in residence; perhaps I now know why, with those thoughts coming through.

It is important to try to understand why children feel the need to undertake these pretty dangerous exploits into the internet. The reports have been referred to. Dr Tanya Byron’s review covered the social networking internet sites, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned the Select Committee report on harmful content on the internet and in video games. Both reports have informed our debates, and they have certainly informed people’s views about what may or may not be able to be done.

The Government have made their contribution in setting up the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. It is clear that the onus for responding to this debate fell to the Home Office, but it could equally have gone to three or four other departments. The noble Lord, Lord Brett, drew the short straw and, as a result, I drew the short straw, so we have all had to do our homework. We have the DCMS, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, and it is essential that there is co-ordination between them if any of the recommendations that have been made are to be effectively implemented. The Minister might like to say how he thinks that co-ordination is taking place at the moment.

Like almost everyone who has issued recommendations on the subject, we agree that self-regulation is difficult and that there is some responsibility on those who run internet sites to supervise and check what is going on and to look at the content. Since many of the firms are based overseas, there are few feasible ways to proceed. Similarly, given the extraordinary rate of change in both technology and usage of the internet, legislation, as we know, can only do so much. However, companies can be involved in the interface between the public and the internet—the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was not quite sure about this. They are best placed to observe the ever changing risks that are posed and to develop the most effective ways of countering those risks. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said, this must be backed up by the internet sites monitoring what is going on and, particularly, verifying the ages of young users where they can. I was particularly pleased, therefore, to see the announcement this week that 17 of the leading web firms that provide social networking sites have voluntarily signed up to an agreement that increases the protection for minors. Perhaps it is a small step on the road to protection, but it is a step.

Of course other measures can be taken. Setting the default setting of the pages of under-18 year-olds to “private”, restricting what they can be searching for, the clear and simple reporting of abuse, which was also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the involvement of schools, and education—these are the sorts of steps that were recommended in the Byron review and which we hope are now being implemented. However, there are further things that could be done: the improvement of take-down times after the reporting of abuse, for example, and the clearer labelling of potentially inappropriate material. I would be interested to hear from the noble Lord if these recommendations are being considered and what is being done about them.

There is much more that the Government could be doing in this area. The most important of these, apart from encouraging more firms to sign up to codes of conduct, is informing the public. This is one of the most serious things to come out of our debate today. The public—adults, by and large—do not seem to be aware of what is going on, what the children are doing, what they are seeing and how they are entertaining themselves. It may be that many adults are simply thankful that their children are quiet and it is not until they come home and find the house trashed that they realise what it was all about. There must be some form of education set up, whether that is for the television and internet companies to undertake themselves, I do not know, but if we do not do it, there will be a lot more trouble and a lot more risks for our children in the future.

Perhaps we cannot rely on sites such as Facebook and MySpace to keep inappropriate material away from children, and parents must take an active role themselves, but unfortunately, not all do. There are tools that can help them in this, such as the parental controls, but it is unfortunate that so many of these are not fully understood and used effectively.

The debate has been timely and interesting. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure this House that the Government are doing as much as they can to keep parents informed about the options open to them, but also to work with companies to ensure that they are not shirking their responsibilities in this matter.

My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey for bringing this apposite debate before us. The Government also welcome the debate on the use by children and young people of internet services, and social networking in particular. The debate comes at a time when there is growing interest in the safety of children on the internet. As has been aptly demonstrated, more and more children have access to the technology and take to it with a vengeance and interest that they do not perhaps show in every other aspect of life.

Of course, the point has correctly been made that there are benefits to individuals and children of being able to use online services such as social networking. They have fun, share gossip, play games and build friendships online. It has allowed more and more children to use these services and, indeed, some of the child-specific social networking services that did not really get a mention in the debate, such as Club Penguin, which are now among the most heavily used sites for younger children. More well known services such as Bebo, MySpace and Facebook are heavily used by older children and young adults.

As has also been said, and as I should say from the outset, protecting children from any risk does not divide this House. We would all be united on that. The question has already been put: are we doing enough and can we do more? It might be useful to set out what we are seeking to do. We have heard what is beneficial about the use of new technology, as it was called in my day, and the Government are fully behind and encourage internet use in schools and homes. When used responsibly and with care, these services are a boon to children’s lives and children wish to use them. These technologies bring new, fantastic opportunities for fun and enjoyment, but we need to get the balance, which is not always obvious to children. There are risks, and parents have real worries, when children are online. We have always recognised that there is a darker side to the internet, and it rightly falls to the Government to help to develop a response to help to protect our children.

A number of noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Harris, graphically set out the kind of threats and risks to children who are online. While how children use the internet has changed—through, for example, the rapid development of social networking in the past two years—the risks from those who misuse the internet to contact children have been around for some time. Although recent research, both within the EU and the US, shows that the threat of sexual predators contacting children is in reality limited compared to other risks mentioned in the debate such as cyber-bullying, to which I will return, I have no doubt whatsoever that, in most people’s eyes danger from predators remains the most potent threat to children’s safety online.

The Government responded by setting up the Child Exploitation & Online Protection centre, CEOP, about which I will talk in more detail shortly. It was set up in 2006, the first centre of its kind, to address the growing concerns of which we have heard. Its success in targeting online predators and in forming crucial partnerships with international law enforcement agencies means that the UK is recognised as a world leader in serious online protection.

That said, the Government are not complacent about the potential threat to children from those who would seek to harm them by approaching them through social networking services or in other ways. We take the issue seriously and have been active on the matter over a considerable time. Reference was made to the Home Secretary’s Task Force for Child Protection on the Internet, which was set up as long ago as 2001 and has been successful in bringing together industry, law enforcement, charities and government departments to develop measures to protect children in the fast-moving world of technology. Internet technology certainly moves much quicker than I can take on board, but not so quickly that 10 year-olds cannot take it on board with much greater speed than adults. That is, of course, one of the problems that has been referred to.

The technology may be new but many of the offences committed that we are frightened of are actually old offences committed in a new medium. There is a need to learn from the experience of law enforcement agencies, charities, industry and other expert groups to ensure that the Government’s response to online threats keeps up to date with changes in how online services develop and are used. Indeed, it was through the work of the task force that the Government introduced the offence of “grooming” in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which makes it an offence to communicate with a child and arrange to meet for sexual purposes.

This legislation made it clear that such activities would not be tolerated in the United Kingdom, and subsequently a number of people have been convicted of this offence. We were, I understand, the first country in Europe to introduce this offence and I am aware that other countries have introduced, or are considering introducing, similar offences. Indeed, only a few weeks ago, four and a half years after the UK introduced the offence of grooming, the European Parliament recommended that all European Community members do so.

The Government have also recognised that the growth of broadband and the development of social networking have led to many more children going online regularly. We heard graphic statistics of how this has exploded in only two years. We have considered how law enforcement can be provided to protect children. Again, CEOP has played a crucial role in this area.

I took the opportunity to visit CEOP to talk to Jim Gamble, the chief executive, and his colleagues. I was very impressed by the dedication of the staff, by their efficiency and, most of all, by the work that they are doing, all of which have been covered in a number of contributions. Through its development of a dedicated “report abuse” button and a reporting website, it enables members of the public to make reports directly to law enforcement agencies about possible incidents of grooming. I believe that these reports are now running at approximately 400 per month. I saw for myself Microsoft UK’s Windows line messenger, which has the red button on it. Microsoft UK should be congratulated on being the first to ensure that children in danger can go straight to CEOP. Many other companies now provide links to the CEOP website to enable children to report directly to it. As new services develop, we strongly encourage them to speak to CEOP about incorporating this reporting facility on its site.

Much has been said about the need to educate children, parents and carers. CEOP has developed an educational programme for children, their parents and carers, called, Think U Know. This is based on its research and the experience that it has gathered in the course of its work. The Think U Know website contains excellent advice, and I recommend that all noble Lords log in and look at it. It also contains an education programme, delivered by local professionals such as teachers and police officers, who have been specially trained by CEOP. Since its launch in 2006, the Think U Know educational programme has reached 3.3 million children, which is a considerable number.

In introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Harris mentioned “Safer Internet Day”, which took place two days ago. I had the privilege of seeing in advance a video that was produced for that day, which is now available to teachers, schools and parents. It graphically shows a child putting a placard containing all their details in the front garden and leaving the door open. Then 10 or 12 year-old schoolchildren are asked whether that is a sensible thing to do and of course they all scoff that it is a terrible thing to do. By the end of the video, after a number of other examples, they are asked whether they go online, whether they give their name or picture to people they do not know and—this is a key question—whether they have anything on their site that their parents would not like. All of them seemed to giggle and say yes to that. Then it is pointed out that all they are doing in the new meeting place of cyberspace is what they would not do in real life, in their street, road or town. The video seemed very impressive to me, but whether it impresses children of 10 or 12, I do not know. However, I am told that immediately after they have been shown the video, there is a very positive reaction from children. Whether it remains positive when they get home and whether they go through their procedures for privacy, I am not quite so sure. Certainly, the education programme continues.

The Government want children to be able to use these services safely but to ensure that they understand the potential risks that they face. That is a very important point which noble Lords made. To that extent, we recognise that privacy and the protection of sensitive information are a major concern to the users of social networking sites. There is a responsibility upon service providers.

Government, parents and carers recognise the dangers and must ensure that safeguards are available to enable children to protect themselves online. This is not only a matter of ensuring that the providers of information given to children use it in accordance with the law, but that there is a proactive approach to educating all users of the consequences of the use or misuse of information.

Earlier this year, the Home Secretary’s Task Force for Child Protection on the Internet, a working group involving industry, law enforcement and charities, considered how children using social networking services could be better guided. Guidance has been put forward, containing a number of recommendations. It focused on how children could be kept safe, by asking service providers to ensure that safety information was clearly available, that there were links to external groups that could provide assistance, including law enforcement and the children’s charities, and that there were settings in the service to allow children to keep their personal information private and that tools were provided to empower children to protect themselves from other users whom they did not wish to be contacted by.

The guidance set out recommendations to the suppliers and was brought about by collaborating with the industry. Responsible network providers understand the problems, and we are pleased to report that all the parties, including some of the biggest social networking sites in the world, worked hard to deliver this guidance, which was launched in April last year. It was the first such document in the world. The guidance received support from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States and the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and it has been adopted by the European Union as the gold standard for 17 major social networking sites across Europe.

The convergence of games, the internet and other media also poses challenges and the Government continue to monitor these technological changes. As several noble Lords have mentioned, the Prime Minister in September 2007 asked Tanya Byron to look at these challenges, and her recommendations contained an analysis of how we might manage risk in a fast-paced and fast-changing media environment. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Massey, said, the result was that the Government launched the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, or UKCCIS, to carry on the work of the task force and bring together a wider range of groups and industries, and to carry on the dialogue between the different sectors. Some of the emphasis will be on self-regulation; for example, the council is developing voluntary codes of practice for the moderation of user-generated content, but we want these to be developed through partnership working.

More than 100 organisations are now members of the council, which is a reflection of the growing awareness and importance of child safety issues online. UKCCIS will take forward the work of the task force, and later in the year will publish an information resource aimed at parents, to help them to understand how social networking sites can be used safely. This will be based on the work done as part of the development of the social networking guidance. UKCCIS will also work with the producers of other forms of online entertainment, such as online games, to ensure that children are protected when they are enjoying these. The issue of protecting information has also been addressed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has published guidance for users online on how they should protect their information. It also has dedicated material aimed at children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and other noble Lords raised a question about age verification or identity authentication. These are difficult issues. There is no silver bullet in this area, as it is not easy to fully authenticate a user because of the limited data sources on children available to the industry that can be checked remotely and in real time—unlike with adults, for whom, of course, there are alternative forms of checking through credit cards, electoral rolls and so on. Notwithstanding this, individual service providers use a range of methods to safeguard children and young people using their services when they are registered as under-18, such as automatically setting their profiles to be shown as private. If there is a message to be taken from this debate, it is that more urgent work needs to be done and there is a considerable desire at large for the reassurance of knowing that age verification could be put in place to exclude children from being exposed to this problem.

I shall try to respond to the other points raised in the debate. The guidance that my noble friend Lord Harris called for in seeking better information will be part of what I have already said. He also raised the question of COPPA. We continue to work on that with our international partners. We are seen as the leader in this field but you cannot be a leader if you cannot learn from the experience of others. That is an important part of continuing to deal with an international problem in a sensible, international way.

I first came across cyber-bullying when I chaired a transatlantic working party on bullying in schools a few years ago. Then, it was almost in its infancy but it has now become a major problem, with some 22 per cent of children saying that they have been subjected to it. Much work has been done on this. UKCCIS is looking at “safe to learn” guidance, which will include special material on how to prevent and tackle cyber-bullying. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, gave a very good example of a practical approach to that in a school.

Ultimately, serious cases of cyber-bullying should be referred to law enforcement, as they can be considered under the Protection from Harassment Act. My noble friend Lady Massey pointed out that children in the US had been charged for this offence, but that has not happened in the UK. To date, the attitude of the authorities has been that it is better to put things right in these circumstances than to criminalise children, but it is a real problem and it is receiving ongoing attention.

I found the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, absolutely fascinating. I cannot pretend that I have anything in my brief that would even start to provide an answer to her. I think that what she raised deserves a debate in its own right, because it goes beyond anything that the Government currently have in mind. In her report, Dr Byron, a clinical psychologist, referred to some literature and reviews which could take us forward, and more research is being done. In her visionary contribution, the noble Baroness showed us the dangers of seeing things only in relation to the speed of the technology. Unfortunately, human beings do not move as quickly as technology, but her contribution opened my mind to things that I had not even thought of, which at my age is fairly rare.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked what we are doing to ensure that parents and others have a better understanding of the dangers involved. An e-safety awareness campaign began last summer. It is supported by a £9 million investment and has been developed in conjunction with UKCCIS. We are aiming to have a one-stop shop approach on our child safety website. People may say, “Well, you’ve had this campaign, but it hasn’t been very successful because I didn’t know about it”. However, we are endeavouring to use the media in the most sensible way to get information across to parents, and, to that end, CEOP and the council have just launched an e-safety week. We hope that all these things will bring greater awareness.

This debate may not be the most well attended in this House and perhaps it will not be the most watched on television, but that does not in any way suggest that we are any less concerned with this issue as a House. The Government will continue to respond to the need for changes in legislation and they will continue to work with providers. On the question of voluntary versus compulsory work, the short answer is that we hope to get self-regulation to work but, if it fails, undoubtedly calls for more enforced regulation will grow and the Government will have to respond.

I hope that I have covered most of the points raised. We think that we have the right structure in place and are proud of being world leaders. We are not complacent: much more needs to be done, if only to keep up with the technology. Again, I thank all noble Lords who have participated for educating me and others about the ongoing need to increase activity and not to sit on our laurels or be complacent.

My Lords, I am enormously grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate, which has been wide-ranging, extremely interesting and valuable. There was a clear consensus about the need to balance the opportunities and the circumstances in which children and young people can grow using the internet with the need for appropriate and sensible measures to protect their interests.

I was struck by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about how much has happened since the report Personal Internet Security, with which we were both involved, was written. If we couple that with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, about the long-term implications for brain/mind plasticity, it raises some interesting questions about how quickly we are responding to rapid technological investments.

I took what my noble friend Lord Brett said about age verification to indicate tacit government support for the Bill that my noble friend Lady Massey is planning to introduce. Given the consensus in the House about the value of age verification legislation, I am sure that that will be welcomed—if indeed it was tacit support. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, talked about the need for co-ordination. She listed the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. BERR also has a role, as does the Cabinet Office.

My Lords, my noble friend said that I was offering tacit government support. My comments come with a health warning—it is my health that I am concerned about. We cannot relate the comments in this debate to any other proposed legislation. I am responding to this debate only. For the health of the nation and myself, nothing much can be added to it.

My Lords, that must count as one of the most prolific health warnings that we have ever heard in this House. However, I hope that my noble friend will take back to ministerial colleagues and all the government departments that I listed, whose activities need to be co-ordinated, the message that there would be a great deal of support in this House for the principle of age verification.

I close by thanking everyone who has taken part in the debate and I just make the point that we cannot hope to eliminate danger from all children and young people—nor should we. Part of growing up is learning to cope with danger and challenges. We must take the sensible precautions that noble Lords have talked about today. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned at 4.17 pm.