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National Marriage Week

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to recognise National Marriage Week; and what account they take of the role of marriage in the development of policy.

My Lords, there are no plans to recognise National Marriage Week. We recognise the role that marriage can play as the basis for family life. The public sector equality duty requires us to pay due respect to the impact of policy and decisions on different people, including those who are married or in civil partnerships. The family test helps ensure that policy decisions take into consideration impacts on family relationships and functioning, including for people who are married.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer. Is she aware that it is 10 years this year since a Minister last recognised National Marriage Week? There are many Members who regret this and would welcome some recognition of the stability found in marriage and the benefit that stability brings to children. Government as a whole is clearly not reluctant to recognise and celebrate many sorts of days, weeks and months, but, as I say, it is 10 years since some positive recognition of marriage came from a Minister. Will my noble friend undertake to speak to the Secretary of State for Education, who now holds responsibility for family across government, and ask him to provide Members of both Houses with details of how he intends to promote marriage within his new role?

My Lords, we recognise the role that marriage can play as the basis of family life for those couples who want their relationship to be recognised through this lasting commitment. But families come in all shapes and sizes, and we want to ensure that any type of family can provide a nurturing environment for children so that they can succeed and lead happy, fulfilling lives. The Secretary of State for Education, in his role to improve outcomes for families, would, I am sure, be happy to discuss these issues further with my noble friend.

My Lords, I certainly commend National Marriage Week to this House, especially as one of the themes this year is that a wedding does not have to be an expensive extravaganza. The fees for a church wedding or a simple registry office ceremony are very modest indeed, but the wedding industry is busily ramping up expectations of what a special day should involve. How will Her Majesty’s Government work to encourage couples to understand that marriage itself matters far more than the commercial trappings of a wedding day?

I have to agree with the right reverend Prelate on the ever-increasing cost of weddings. I am not sure that the Government can get involved, but what has been happening with smaller weddings because of Covid-19 has perhaps made people think they do not need the huge weddings they have had in the past.

My Lords, as marriage is so important in helping to ensure stability and security for families, especially for children, will the Government ensure that the best tax arrangements are in place to promote marriage, rather than discourage it?

As my noble friend is, I am sure, aware, the tax system encourages marriage and civil partnerships through the married persons tax allowance. The Government will continue to look at that.

My Lords, in the clunky language of the Office for National Statistics, there were estimated to be 71,000

“same-sex married couple families”

in 2020. There was a roughly similar figure for “civil partner couple families” in the same year. Is the Minister able to confirm that any support given by the Government for marriage, whether in recognition of National Marriage Week or in the development of policy, will always include support for same-sex marriages and civil partnerships?

I can assure the noble and learned Lord that that is the case. In the tax system and throughout all the support systems the Government are providing for families, we are looking at both marriages and civil partnerships.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the two-child limit on divorced or widowed parents who wish to get married?

I think that having an exception for a new family, where two families get together, would be perceived as unfair to those families with three or more children who stay together and receive support from CTC or UC for two children, when more recently formed families would potentially receive support for more than two children. Therefore, I do not think the Government will consider this.

My Lords, statistics show that 60% of the marriages of couples aged between 20 and 25 years end in early divorce. Are the Government satisfied about the effectiveness of the PSHE curriculum? Will the Minister ask her noble friend, with his new responsibilities, to look into whether it adequately provides young people with proper and relevant information about marriage, enabling them to make well-informed decisions for the future?

My Lords, in both primary and secondary schools, we are increasing the amount of relationship education we provide. At the end of primary, we expect that pupils are taught that marriage represents a formal and legally recognised commitment of two people to each other that is intended to be lifelong. At secondary schools, we build on the teaching about that important relationship and the opportunity that marriage provides.

My Lords, family breakdown is not simply an inevitable consequence of modern society. On average, in OECD countries, around 84% of children under 15 still live with both parents. In Finland, 95% of children under 15 still live with both parents, whereas in the UK, as few as two-thirds do. Given that the evidence is clear that family breakdown sits in the backdrop to so many broken lives, entrenching individuals in intergenerational cycles of poverty and instability, what steps are the Government taking to support marriage and, specifically, the couple relationship at the heart of the family, rather than just childcare policies and support for family breakdown—the approach to family policy that is so often taken?

My noble friend is absolutely right. However, the Government are committed to reducing conflict between parents, whether they are together or separated, to help them manage their differences; conflict can be damaging to children and impair parenting skills. Sometimes, separation can be the best option for a couple, but even then, continued co-operation and communication between parents promotes better outcomes for children. DWP’s Reducing Parental Conflict programme is encouraging councils across the country to integrate services and approaches that address parental conflict into their local provision for families.

My Lords, marriage is a protected characteristic in our equalities legislation and results in more stable families, as we have heard already. What plans do the Government have to increase the value of the married couples tax allowance in recognition of these facts or otherwise address the UK tax burden on single-earner couple families with children, which is 25% greater than the OECD average?

My noble friend always brings up a difficult issue. The recipients of the marriage allowance have benefited from large increases in personal allowance; that is linked to the marriage allowance, which has almost doubled in the last decade. The Government remain committed to recognising marriage and the commitment it entails in the tax system while supporting low-earning families. The Government keep all aspects of the tax system under review, including the marriage allowance, and any decisions on future changes will be taken by the Chancellor as part of the annual Budget process.

My Lords, the Minister is, of course, correct in recognising that everyone has a choice in their relationships, but does she agree that the evidence is indisputable that children benefit from growing up within a stable marriage? Of course, there are wonderful exceptions, but socially and academically, marriage is of huge benefit to children. Can she confirm that the Government agree with this and outline what they intend to do to support it?

The Government’s view is that a strong, stable and happy family life is important for children and young people. That can come in many guises. It could be marriage—which could be a same-sex relationship—or one of the numerous other relationships we have in our modern society.