The Telegraph

Saturday 2 December 2000

Jowell: Don't say marriage is the ideal

By Rachel Sylvester
The Daily Telegraph

THE Government should not promote marriage as the ideal context for bringing up children, Tessa Jowell, the minister for employment and women, says today.

Intervening in the debate on family policy which has been raging in the Labour Party, she says it would be wrong to make the offspring of single mothers or cohabiting parents feel inferior.

"We would never want to advocate a family policy that made some children feel they were first class children and others feel they were second class," she says in an interview in The Telegraph. "Children thrive in a stable environment, being brought up by parents who love them. I think in the 21st century families come in all shapes and sizes."

Miss Jowell says she does not think that marriage is necessarily the best model. "Adults have a range of ways in which they express their commitment. Governments do not bring up children. I don't think parents want to be told what to do; they want to be given the opportunity to choose what is right for them and their family."

Her comments will infuriate some of her colleagues. In recent months Paul Boateng, the Home Office minister, has been pushing for a forthcoming consultation paper on the subject to advocate marriage as the ideal.

But other ministers, including Baroness Jay, the leader of the Lords, and Margaret Hodge, an education minister, have refused to endorse the approach, fearing that it would alienate single and cohabiting parents. They have also argued that it could leave ministers open to an assault on their own lives.

The Tories said Miss Jowell's remarks showed that the Government no longer supported traditional family values. Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, said last night: "If this is what a Government minister is saying, it gives the lie to Tony Blair's claims to be the party of the family."

Theresa May, shadow education spokesman, said: "The Government obviously does not know which way to turn on this issue. The weasel words they are now using show that they have no real commitment to marriage."

Family values campaigners were furious when legislation lowering the age of consent for homosexuals to 16 reached the statute book this week. They also fiercely resisted attempts to repeal section 28, which banned councils from promoting homosexuality in schools. As a concession on this issue, it was agreed to put on the statute book a legal duty on teachers to promote the importance of marriage.

Miss Jowell insists that the Government is committed to children. "Once you have children, you are responsible for them and it is perfectly right that as a society we expect them to be." Miss Jowell, who is married to David Mills, a corporate lawyer, has two children and three stepchildren. She has been married once before.

Next week the Government will launch its long-awaited green paper on parental leave, setting out proposals to extend maternity leave and pay and introduce paternity leave. "There is very strong evidence indeed that women want longer away from work after they have had a baby," Miss Jowell says.

In April, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, scrapped the married couples' tax allowance and replaced it with a children's tax credit which will go to all parents. A green paper, Supporting Families, published by the Home Office in 1998, stated: "The Government believes that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships. We do share the belief of the majority of people that marriage provides the most reliable framework for raising children."

After the intervention of No 10, the new green paper is likely to use a similar compromise form of words. The Tories are also divided on how to support marriage. A proposal drawn up by David Willetts, the shadow social security secretary, and Michael Portillo, the shadow chancellor, for a transferable tax allowance for married parents is being resisted by some senior Tories. They want a benefit to go to everyone who is married.

External Links

Ministerial team - Department for Education and Employment

Women's unit - Cabinet Office

10 Downing Street

Labour Party

Conservative Party

Liberal Democrats

Family Policy Studies Centre

Divorce UK

Other Stories

1 December 2000: Gay age of consent dropped to 16 after two-year battle

30 November 2000: Tories revolt over reversal on tax break for marriage

11 July 2000: We'll restore tax reward for marriage, say Tories

22 June 2000: Section 28 struck off statute book

17 June 2000: Scottish ministers in Section 28 U-turn

16 April 2000: Labour brands tax breaks for married as 'extremist'

5 April 2000: Brown's dysfunctional family is Budget winner

6 June 1999: Curbs on 'gay' lessons to be scrapped

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