Mowlam to rule out Ministry for the Family: Labour warned against simple solutions

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Indy Politics
CHANGING the working practices of both parents is the key to developing successful policies for the family, Mo Mowlam, the Labour frontbench spokeswoman, will tell the party's Women's Conference in Llandudno at the weekend.

But in a speech grappling for the first time with the complexities of Labour's commitment to the issue of the family, she will emphasise that the party must resist 'statist' intervention in people's lives.

The speech will spotlight the difficulty of formulating a policy on 'family values' and will rule out a specific all-embracing Labour family policy.

While urging that individual Labour policies should be judged on their 'family friendliness', Ms Mowlam will highlight the difficulty of any government bringing about the stability of families, either two- or one-parent. The party should be wary of simple solutions such as a Ministry for the Family and recognise that governments could only create the framework for policies, she will say. It should be for employers in both private and public sectors to realise them.

Setting up another Whitehall-level bureaucracy will not address the question of a coherent policy, she will add.

Men's primary role as family breadwinner is declining but working practices mean they still have little time for their families, Ms Mowlam will say.

Labour must look at the relationship between work and the family, recognising that policies such as parental leave, child care, after-school clubs, and security of employment for part-time and home workers would have a positive impact.

It must also accept flexible working hours as a crucial and necessary change to allow parents of both sexes to spend more time with their children.

Exploring a theme already expounded by Tony Blair, Labour's spokesman on home affairs, Ms Mowlam will stress that while choice and freedom are vital, individuals in families also have specific rights and responsibilities for themselves and for those around them.

At the same time, no one has the right to impose a particular idealised structure on the nature of families, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What is important, she will emphasise, is not what the structure looks like but whether it works for all the family members.

The balance between rights and responsibilities will be achieved when each lives in a secure, stable, loving environment providing opportunties to flourish. The role of government is to tackle the unemployment, poverty, poor health, bad housing, and poor transport that could affect the stability of relationships, she will say.