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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 17:42 GMT
'Nanny state' minister under fire
Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge was speaking at an event organised by think tank IPPR
Children's Minister Margaret Hodge has sparked Tory anger by praising the "unsung virtues" of the nanny state.

In a speech in London, Mrs Hodge insisted the government had a "powerful" role to play in family life.

She said "good nannies" were not just about telling you what you must do but about "ensuring you can make real and informed choices for yourself".

But Tory spokesman Theresa May said the government was "intent on interfering" in every aspect of people's lives.

'Powerful force'

Mrs May said families did not need a nanny looking over their shoulder and "tutting disapprovingly every time they make a decision that does not meet with government approval".

Some may call it the nanny state but I call it a force for good
Margaret Hodge
Mrs May told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "At least Mrs Hodge has admitted what many have been saying for years, that the government is intent on interfering and controlling every aspect of our lives.

"Families want the freedom to make their own choices over how they run their lives."

For the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes said that government should provide high quality public services enabling people to choose the way they wanted to live rather than a "one size fits all approach".

He added: "Labour too often tries to compel people rather than informing and supporting them to make their own choices.

Labour has come under attack in recent months over plans to ban smoking in public places and smacking.

But in her speech, Mrs Hodge said the state had historically taken an interest in the family, on everything from compulsory education for children to drink-drive laws.

'Best start'

She said that "the state can be a powerful force for good in families and communities".

And government should offer "as much support as possible" to parents especially at the points of transition in children's lives such as moving from primary to secondary school or when they bring their baby home from hospital, she added.

But she said that, rather than "instructing and haranguing" parents, the state should enable and empower them.

She stressed good parenting was not linked to socio-economic background but said poorer families faced "many more obstacles and that makes the state's job different".

She added: "If we really do believe in opportunity for all then the state does need to provide support for the family and children to counter the influence of disadvantage."

Mrs Hodge said that was why the government had decided to offer more to families in disadvantaged areas, with schemes such as Sure Start, the government's network of family centres, which she said helped "deliver the best start in life for every child".

Difficult questions

She pointed to evidence that Sure Start is working including "a 37% increase in breastfeeding in Millmead, Kent", a "25% cut in smoking by pregnant women in Whitehaven" and " a 47% decrease in the number of children under three admitted to an A&E department in Hastings and St Leonards".

Mrs Hodge acknowledged state intervention in family life raised difficult questions but it was not good enough to shy away from such issues.

"For me it's not a question of whether we should intrude in family life, but how and when - and we have to constantly remain focused on our purpose: to strengthen and support families so they can enjoy their opportunities and help to provide opportunities for their children."

Mrs Hodge was speaking at a seminar organised by the left-leaning think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The speech comes as Mrs Hodge's department prepares to publish a booklet to be given to all new parents with advice on how to read a book to their children and how to limit the amount of television they watch.

Ministers rule out 'nanny state'
06 Jul 04 |  Scotland
Margaret Hodge
21 Oct 02 |  Politics

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