A speech by David Amess MP to the 12th International Congress on the Family, International Federation for Family Development, London 5th – 7th November, 1993.

We would like to thank his wife and his family for a lifetime of public service from Sir David.

When I listen to my colleagues speak as we consider law, the thing that guides and motivates me most is that which makes our lives tolerable and at the heart of it all as far as I’m concerned is the family.

I was born in the East End of London. For those of you who don’t know much about the East End of London, it’s a rough, tough area. It’s the home of the Cockney, but family life is very, very strong.

From an early age I knew the value of families staying together, helping one another and part of that was certainly leisure. It is ironic of course now Mr. President that the constituency which I represent, is really the East End displaced. The constituency of Basildon is populated by many of those people who lived where I was born in the East End of London.

When I was a child we had close community links, we helped each other. Divorce frankly was not anywhere near as familiar as it is to us all today. I never go public on this, Mr. President, but the constituency that I represent consists of the highest number of parents trying to bring up their children on their own. Day in day out, week in week out, month in month out, I see the ramifications of that on society. Any member of parliament would say to this congress today that the biggest problem we face in the UK is what I call the breakdown of family life or more precisely the popularity of transient relationships. That is why, Mr. President, I am so delighted to be with you this afternoon at this congress which is precisely about the family.

My poor wife frankly is very much a single parent. In about 15 minutes she will be doing the school run. My children are 9, 8, 5, 4, and 2. They are very badly behaved and they don’t have a Dad to sort them out until I return of an evening. It’s very much my wife Julia looking after the children herself. But I can tell you as a politician I know only too well the value of youth and leisure. Let me expand on that.

I despair when I meet a young person and they say to me, “We’re bored! There is nothing to do. Why aren’t you going to build a skating track? Why can’t we have an extra park? Why can’t we have money for a new facility?”; I fully admit, Mr. President, that it is my own party perhaps who have made affluence so accessible to each and every one of you. Of course, we won’t dwell on the economic downfall we have suffered over the last three years, but times have changed dramatically. Once upon a time young people never had a motor car or they saved up a long while to acquire one and they got a banger.

Nowadays at the age of 17 it’s taken as automatic that they get a car. The computer 15 years ago was a rarity and now I look at my 2-year-old and she’s pushing the blessed buttons which I can’t work and playing the games and explaining to Daddy what’s happening on the video screen. The world has changed dramatically. Children frankly have it all. But how, Mr. President can anyone be bored? There is so much for young people to do today. It is up to each and every one of us as parents and dare I say politicians to make sure that leisure activities are well directed. I see that in your working groups you will be discussing all sorts of things concerning leisure but let me just mention one wonderful aspect that is happening in my own constituency.

Some months ago, a gentleman who I know is very active in our scouting movement said, “David, I’m fed up with all the bad publicity which young people in this country are receiving at the moment”;. In England the peak age of offending is 15. All you hear about is the bad behaviour of young people. At the moment in this country, we have the most appalling trial taking place which is deeply upsetting having to do with young people. So, I think it is right that we dwell just for a moment on leisure activities.

This gentleman who is very prominent in the scouting movement, came to me and said, “David, I want to organize a festival over a weekend in the summer of 1994, in my constituency of Basildon but for the whole of Essex. Whereby we demonstrate to people that our young groups are involved in wonderful leisure activities and I won’t take no for an answer.”

Now we have set in place a festival next year which will be opened by a member of the Royal family. At that festival we will be demonstrating all the good positive points that young people are involved in at the moment. It’s not just the scouts, the guides, the brownies, that sort of people. It’s not just the fast runners, the jumpers. It’s people making things, it’s people singing, it’s people writing, it’s people reading poetry. So, for a weekend Essex man and Essex woman will be treated to a wonderful demonstration that there is so much good among our young people in this country.

I am on a very serious note worried about the family in this country at the moment. There seems to be a mood whereby the state somehow can be a substitute family. That can never and never should be the way we bring up our children. We need two people to give our children the right kind of guidance in life and leisure is all important. Now let me take a number of leisure examples.

First of all, the media, particularly television and radio, is all important. Now I despair sometimes at the utter trash and garbage that we see on our television screens at all times of the day. This as far as I’m concerned is probably the most powerful influence of all. Day in and day out the television I believe is a very powerful influence on young people.

This Mr. President is my message: It’s up to parents not to let the children as soon as they come in from school turn the box on and sit there looking at it until the epilogue comes on (I don’t know if we still have the epilogue in this country, no perhaps we don’t) We should be selective about what our young people watch, listen to, read and the video games they choose.

Let me move on quickly to our schools. I get fed up with people complaining about schools in this country because at the end of the day they are actually expecting schools to be responsible for their families. It is supposed to be a partnership, schools can’t do it all. It’s up to parents to actually spend time talking and listening to their children. We are all very busy, but it’s no good just having children and thinking: “Well that group can look after them” or “The schools can discipline them” or “That organization can care for our children”. They shouldn’t have to care for our children. We’ve got to spend time educating our children ourselves.

We all know that the influence that children have on one another is absolutely profound. Young people can so easily be led astray. And parents sometimes do not even realize it’s going on. If that wasn’t the case, how is it that a parent sometimes suddenly discovers that the child has been exposed to drugs. They were actually exposed to them at one of these so-called supervised activities. How is it, Mr. President that a very caring mother and father suddenly finds out that their daughter of 14 is pregnant? They were not aware of a boy ever coming to their house. They thought that their daughter was being supervised by a particular organization. We all know the ramifications on that particular young lady’s life.


We must support and encourage our young people to join all sorts of leisure activities and organizations. But we must make sure that they are well supervised, licensed, and directed by responsible people who share our values.

Let me now turn onto sports. The British have always been described as good losers. On a very serious note, were a bit fed up with loosing these days. I introduced a bill the other day to try and do something about hooliganism that is being sported throughout the world. We’ve cleaned up the game of football in this country but we certainly haven’t cleaned it up when our so-called supporters travel abroad. I support West Ham United and when I used to go to West Ham it was very much a family activity. Dad would be there with his son and we’d sing “Come on you Irons” and “I’m forever blowing bubbles”;. I can recall when all that changed. It wasn’t quite as gentle as that; every other word was a swear word and it was normally felt that they wanted to string up the manager or the referee if they were losing that particular match.

I do believe that sporting activity well directed, is an excellent activity for our young people. We should encourage them to play sports. I’ve never heard such nonsense that it’s wrong to be competitive. It is inherent and it is natural within the human race for us all to be competitive. Frankly I feel it should be encouraged.

I welcome parents encouraging their children to participate in sporting activities. Although I know in our house it’s a blessed nuisance and inconvenience when you find that my son’s got to go off to a football match, a daughter has to go and demonstrate her skills at ballet, another daughter’s got to go off and play the flute and it’s all got to be done at the same time and there are only two people to do it. I think sporting activities have a very good influence on our young people and of course we want to encourage them to be determined and to do well. 

Let me talk directly about our schools. I come from a school in the East End of London where we had 50 people in the classroom. I remember it very well. It was a Victorian school. We had a very bossy teacher who told us precisely what we should do and who gave us a good example. I owe anything that I am today to that teacher. At the age of 5 she asked to see my mother. She said, “Do you realize your son has got a real problem. They nick name him Double Dutch, he’s got a very bad scoop, he can’t make the sound TH and in fact he has to have other people to translate for him what he’s saying.” For three years I had to go to a speech therapist, “How now brown cow” and all of that. 

I owe everything to that wonderful teacher who took the time to ask to see my mother after school. I was lucky, my mother was prepared to walk to the clinic where all this tuition was given. I owe everything to my education. As you heard from the previous speaker, I’ve been a teacher myself. My goodness it is tough being a teacher! A great many people find it a great pressure looking after 1 child, 2 children. It’s jolly tough being a teacher. The older they get and the bigger they get the more difficult it becomes.

I believe the changes we’ve made lately in this country, with the broadly based national curriculum and once again having religious worship in our schools is all important. For parents to think that education is something that only the schools are involved in is nonsense. Throughout the 11 years that I’ve been a member of parliament education in my constituency in all my schools is improving. I interfere in all the schools, I go along, I meet the parents, I talk to the teachers, I know first-hand how much the breakdown of family life in this country is putting pressure on those teachers. In the more lively parts of my constituency they say, “David, one week Fred is the father and a week later it’s Harry” and so we go on.


This has got an enormous psychological effect on our young people. I would say to people who take these subjects seriously, “For goodness sake, get involved in your schools”. The whole point of the changes was to make sure that the governors were given more power. I am happy to say that in Basildon the parents have really got involved. Not just through the Parent/Teacher associations, not just through the governing bodies but the other night we had an open house and it was so crowded that they were actually queuing to get in.

Leisure, travel, why shouldn’t we encourage our young people to travel? Here I am, privileged to address 15 countries. Through traveling around the world our young people can learn so much The practice in this country is often to take a year off at the age of 18 and travel and see the world.

That is precisely when parents worry about what will happen when they are traveling for that year. Let me mention music. It has a very great influence on young people. Until the last world cup I was completely ignorant about opera and then I saw Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo and I’ve become an opera buff. As I was driving along here, I was listening to Maria Callas. I think music is such a powerful influence upon young people. It seems to me that our young people are listening to a lot of rubbish. I don’t know if you’ve been along to a discotheque lately but I have to go as often times that’s where the young people are. It seems to me that all they are listening to is Stomp, Stomp, Stomp. It is while they are at the discotheque that a great deal of influence is placed on our young people. A couple of months ago I introduced a bill in parliament for a voluntary system of identity cards. I was rather pleased when the Prime Minister opted to take this matter forward in a particular area.

One point that I felt strongly about with identity cards was access to discotheques, selling of alcohol and cigarettes to our young people. We all know as parents they seem to grow up so quickly these days. I know that girls mature much faster than boys but they all look so much more grow up than they used to that it is difficult to know whether a young person should be allowed into a disco or sold alcohol. Discotheques, whether we like it or not are very popular and very important and we must make sure as parents that our children go to the right sort of places.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s not just parents on their own who face the battles of bringing up children satisfactorily.

Is it right that we as parents teach our children values? This is a debate that goes on today. Who is right and who is wrong? There are a number of people in our country at the moment who are questioning all the basic values. Who is to decide who is right and who is wrong? Mr. President, I am an unashamed reactionary! It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to teach our children the difference between right and wrong particularly through leisure activities. I’m not going to indoctrinate my children to be conservatives, they will have my influence while they are living under my roof but it will be up to them to make up their own mind later. I certainly don’t want any of my children to go into politics. But whilst I’m there I do believe that it is my duty to accept my responsibility and direct them in the right fashion.

I feel very strongly about the family and all that it stands for. I am so encouraged that we have this wonderful organization throughout the world where we all share values and beliefs. May you when you finish tomorrow night go away refreshed that there are a number of us who still care about these issues.

David Amess

Member of Parliam’

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