Opinions: What are 'family values'?: Victoria McKee puts the question of the year to politicians, pundits and parents

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Indy Lifestyle Online
BARONESS WARNOCK, philosopher: I think family values is a ghastly phrase and my instant reaction is that it should be cut out of the vocabulary altogether. There are lots of other things such as cruelty and abuse which could well be made a political rallying cry, but 'family values' is a bit wide. I think it's rubbish. When politicians talk about family values they haven't got in mind the single mothers who live with five children all with different fathers. These children are being deeply disadvantaged unless we, society, does something to help them. You can't ask that woman to start believing in family values. She hasn't got a family. She's got children.

VIRGINIA BOTTOMLEY, Secretary of State for Health: I welcome the International Year of the Family. Maintaining contact with kith and kin through the storms of life is very important. Families come in all shapes and sizes, but the cohesion and stability which they provide are fundamental to the fabric of society. Children are best cared for and controlled in families, where they learn to distinguish right from wrong. Within Government we will continue to support the family through a range of measures, including the Children Act, our Care in the Community policies and the proposed legislation on adoption.

THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: Society can do its part in educating children, healing them when they are sick, ensuring they have a roof over their heads and food to eat. But this is on the understanding that parents are fulfilling their responsibilities. If I have a right to have children then I also have a duty to bring them up as good citizens. It is also a duty to attend to their spiritual needs, so they can grow up to know and love God. Real families are committed to each other, and grow to maturity through that commitment.

GLENYS KINNOCK: The traditional family has changed its form. Censorious statements from Government will not restore the family values or traditions of the past. We need a recognition that the welfare of the family and childrearing cannot and should not be an entirely private matter. We need proper public support for parents who cannot work. Also employers and Government need to acknowledge those parents who want to spend more time with their children.

DR CHAD VARAH, founder of the Samaritans: The expression family values is a way of attacking and disparaging some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Not all respectably married people are good mothers and fathers, and not all single parents are irresponsible. But I wouldn't try to erase the term. If you got rid of all the meaningless expressions politicians use, they would never say anything.

DR SYED AZIZ PASHA, general secretary, Union of Muslim Organisations: Under Islamic law, marriage is a contract between husband and wife, under divine auspices. Muslim families are much more stable. We believe Muslim family law is of divine origin and will contribute a lot to family peace and harmony, which is crucial to the welfare of society as a whole. It defines the duties of husband, wife and children, to avoid dispute.

ESTHER RANTZEN, broadcaster: I would like children to be put at the heart of all family decisions so that whether families stay together or split they always think of the children first. It's the only real investment we can make for the future. I just hope children will be made a true priority in our new family values.

ROBIN SKYNNER, psychiatrist: I don't agree that family values should mean people staying married no matter what. The priority has to be on individual welfare and development. Children need to be put first insofar as their security is concerned. But in a family the relationship of the couple must come first. If that's not the case, the children have too much power, get frightened, and don't get the message that there are things that are much more important than they are.

JOHN SMITH, leader of the opposition: We can best strengthen family values by attacking unemployment, building new homes, and providing better health and education services. Instead of scapegoating single mothers, the Government should offer training and childcare. Responsible individuals and families must be supported by a caring and opportunity- creating society.

VALERIE RICHES, director, Family and Youth Concern: Family values should recognise that the family, founded on marriage, is the basic and fundamental group unit of society. Since marriage has become unimportant, we are seeing a disintegration of that unit to the cost of society.

DR JONATHAN SACKS, Chief Rabbi: Family values should be simple things - time spent together, valuing one another, celebrating together. In Judaism, these are religious rituals. But in all families they need to become part of a cherished rhythm. The family should not be a political battleground. It is the place where love, fidelity and compassion become real and part of who we are. It is the matrix of a caring society.

VICTORIA GILLICK, mother and campaigner: Family values should be to encourage faithfulness and lifelong commitment between spouses - I won't call them partners, an ugly bureaucratic word - as the basis for a stable family. You have to start with the parents. A good family is one in which any problems or difficulties can be coped with and sorted out between the members. You have to have that first commitment of marriage before you can even contemplate bringing children into a relationship.

PENNY MANSFIELD, One Plus One marriage and partnership research charity: The essence should lie in long- term commitment. We live in times when people find it very difficult to build commitment. The way in which family values can be helped is by supporting people in critical years of building partnerships. We are going through a challenging period where we have to develop new skills to create those commitments. I'm against the notion of return to 'basic' family values if all that means is performing the roles we did in the past. We're looking now at equipping families for the future.

NICK PARTRIDGE, Terrence Higgins Trust: We should reclaim family values, and value families which include all of their members, most particularly families which look after their children who become ill with HIV. I'd like to see family values being used as an inclusive term rather than the excluding way it's been used recently.

SHERE HITE, author of the Hite Report on the Family: Better than family values would be the term 'loving values'. We are in a process of transformation and democratisation of the family, from a hierarchical grouping to a unit based on equality, mutual respect and a new emotional contract. The movement of so- called traditional family values is a form of Western fundamentalism attempting to stop these advances.

DAVID HOWDEN, chairman, Parents of Murdered Children: Family values need to be extended beyond the immediate family. We get so many tragedies because people are unwilling to speak out about something they perceive to be wrong. Family values should embrace friends, neighbours, the community - we all bear responsibility.

LINDA KELSEY, editor, She magazine: We need to redefine the family, to give acceptance and help to the diverse family groupings that have mushroomed in the last 20 years. These UN-designated years are usually a washout, but if we can get some sensible debate going, then perhaps it will be worthwhile.

(Photographs omitted)

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