Bishop urges Government to support marriage

Children will benefit from a recognition of marriage within the tax system and there needs to be a "cultural change" in the way that children are viewed, said the Bishop of Chester today.

In a debate he secured in the House of Lords, Dr Peter Forster emphasised the importance of marriage for children’s wellbeing and the desire of children to have relationships which "surround and nurture them". He also paid tribute to the challenging task that single parents undertake.

"Marriage has to be seen as part of a broader context of relationships in the extended family, or too much stress and pressure will be placed on individual marriages.

"But we can look at it from the other side too: good marriages are not just a benefit for the couple themselves, and their children, but serve to strengthen the wider society of which they are a part.

"A strong respect for marriage will actually support single parents, and others who have the care of children."

The bishop reiterated the point made by the Prime Minister in 2008, when he said: "I want to see more couples stay together, and we know that the best way to ensure this is to support marriage. Not because it matters how adult men and women conduct their relationships. But because it matters how children are brought up. Nothing matters more than children."

The bishop also talked of the Judeao-Christian view that children are to be seen as "a precious gift from God", arguing that this needed to be rediscovered.

Seeing them as mini adults damages this tradition, he said, as he warned against the early sexualisation of children.

He then went on to acknowledge that the role of government in promoting marriage, and stable relationships and good parenting was "limited".

"But there are certain things which only government can do, and in the Coalition Agreement there is a commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system through the introduction of transferable allowances between partners," he said.

To criticise a transferable tax allowance on the grounds that it shouldn’t be necessary to offer financial incentives for couples to marry is to miss the point, he suggested.

A recognition for marriage in the tax system would send a powerful symbolic message from Government about the wider importance of marriage to society, the bishop said.

The two and a half hour balloted debate on the wellbeing of children also featured Lord Browne of Belmont, who supported the bishop’s call for improvements in the tax system, saying that, unlike most developed countries, our tax system does not recognise marriage or indeed family responsibility.

The Bishop of Chester, Lord Browne and Lord Mackay of Clashfern all commended the Government to take action on their Coalition Agreement pledge.

In his closing remarks the bishop thanked his fellow peers for their contributions to the debate and asked the Government to write to him and others concerned about the seeming lack of action on the transferable tax allowance pledge, asking them to clarify their position on recognising marriage in the tax system.

Dr Daniel Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs for CARE, said: "Today’s debate in the House of Lords raised immensely important issues in relation to the wellbeing of children.

"CARE wholeheartedly supports the value of marriage and its role in providing a stable family environment for children to safely develop and prosper within.

"The transferable tax allowance forms one part of the bigger picture of promoting stable family relationships and we call upon the Government to deliver on its pledge to implement this."