I first put on record my appreciation of the Coalition for Marriage, which has done a fantastic job in informing not only Members of this House, but the wider public about the issue.
I oppose the Bill for five key reasons. First, I believe it is simply wrong in principle. To overturn centuries of established custom requires a proper explanation beyond mouthing the equality mantra. What shaft of wisdom has suddenly alighted on my right hon. Friends that was denied their distinguished forebears? How come they think that they know better than the established Church? For the Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary today to pray in aid the argument that marriage “has evolved over time” is simply disingenuous. As Jim Dobbin has pointed out, nothing like this has been proposed in Parliament ever before—this is a massive change.
This Bill deeply affects the core fabric of our society through the challenge it poses to the whole institution of marriage. Reference has been made to Spain, which introduced similar legislation in 2005 and where the overall marriage rate has fallen by 20%. Since all research shows that children raised in married households with a mother and father tend to fare better than those who are not, the Government threaten to damage the life chances of the nation’s children.
Secondly, as my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan and others have pointed out, neither the Prime Minister nor any other party leader has a mandate, because this was not in any party’s manifesto, let alone in the coalition agreement.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has insisted on sticking to the 0.7% target for overseas aid on the grounds that he gave a commitment in 2009, and I respect him for that. He has stuck to that commitment, but not to the commitment to introduce tax breaks for married couples, and he has now invented a policy that he specifically ruled out at the last general election.