Marriage in Government Policy — [Mr Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 9:50 am on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:50 am, 30th January 2018

I congratulate Derek Thomas on securing the debate. I was happy to go to the Backbench Business Committee and support him in his request, and I am happy to see the culmination of that request. I am well known as a supporter of marriage, especially in Government policy. I have been happily married for 30-plus years—believe it or not, 30-odd years ago I had thick, curly black hair. Then, I needed a brush; now I just need a chamois.

The fact of the matter is that I have supported married life over a long period, I am totally committed to it and I want to see Government policy on it. Since I came to the House in 2010, I and Fiona Bruce, who is in her place—she will not mind me saying this, because it is true—have shared in many issues of common concern, and this is one of them. In the past, she has worked consciously in the Conservative party, as I have done in the Democratic Unionist party, to try to formulate Government policy. By working together across parties—not just in the confidence and supply agreement that we have now, but long before that—we have had some success with the marriage allowance. We were instrumental in making that Government policy. I want to put that on the record early on.

I and my party worked extremely hard to bring in marriage tax allowance transfers as a recognition of the stabilising effect that marriage provides to our community. The public policy benefits of marriage are significant. The hon. Member for St Ives outlined some of them, and I will add these facts and figures: three quarters of breakdowns of families with children under five come from the separation of non-married parents; children are 60% more likely to have contact with separated fathers if the parents were married; the prevalence of mental health issues among children of cohabiting parents is more than 75% greater than among children of married parents; and children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders—they account for 70% of all young offenders.

Those are some key figures. However, I want to be clear: in no way whatsoever am I am attempting to say that the only unit that works is the married family unit. I see this in my office every week, and just now my staff will be dealing with many people who are single parents. I see hundreds of wonderful women who singlehandedly run their homes, and their children are well adjusted and thriving. I increasingly see single men taking on the two-parent role and doing a great job. As Andrew Selous said, society is changing, and we have got to look at that. The intervention from Luke Graham reaffirmed that. We must adjust our focus and way of thinking to how things are today.

I understand as much as the next person that marriage is hard and relationships are hard. Sometimes, no matter how much one person may try, it simply will not work. In our relationship, my wife has been understanding. The hon. Member for St Ives referred to time away, and most of my life has been away from home. My wife reared the children and now has the role of rearing the grandchildren as well. Simply, people have to try hard, otherwise it will not work.

I have also seen too many women widowed in the troubles. I relate very much to that, back home in Northern Ireland, where women have to be both mother and father to their child in the midst of tremendous grief and ensure that their child has not simply a house to live in, but a home to grow in. The role of those tasked with the responsibility of looking after children is so important. I make no judgment on anyone’s ability to provide a great home for their child being intrinsically linked with marriage, but statistics show why I believe that marriage is key and why it should be key in any Government policy. I wish the Minister well in his new role.

One massive issue to recognise is that the commitment of marriage is a driver for stability, quite apart from wealth. Crucially, even the poorest 20% of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20% of cohabiting couples. In that context, it is entirely appropriate that our tax system now recognises marriage. That is something we pushed for and the Government recognised in the previous Parliament. It is good to have that.