2 Aug 2010

A potted parliamentary history of the signposting of couples

A potted parliamentary history of the signposting of couples from
register offices - or 'gesture politics' at its worst:

1. Paul Boateng, then Labour Shadow Minister in the Commons for the
Lord Chancellor's Department, begins the argument for the signposting of
couples by Registrars towards marriage preparation on 24th April 1996
during a debate on the Family Law Bill: "At the moment, there is no
preparation at all for civil marriage, and there is absolutely nothing
on the face of the Bill to give any hope whatsoever that that will occur
or is envisaged... The Government also have to come forward with
proposals in relation to preparation for marriage and with proposals
that recognise the need for concerted and focused action to support the
institution of marriage and the family." [Hansard]. The Conservatives
funk it.

2. The Labour Government makes proposals in its "Supporting Families"
consultation for changes in practice at Register Offices to provide more
information and support to couples preparing for marriage.

3. "The Hart Report" recommends more government support for
preventative couple education programmes; reiterates proposals in
"Supporting Families" [The Lord Chancellor agrees with Sir Graham Hart's
conclusion that public funding of marriage support agencies is highly
appropriate and worth-while. The Lord Chancellor has considered Sir
Graham's recommendations in detail, and accepts them. Hansard]

4. "Moving Forward Together", a Proposed Strategy for Marriage and
Relationship Support from the Lord Chancellor's Department reiterates
proposals in "The Hart Report".

5. "Civil Registration - Vital Change" reiterates "The registration
service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information on
services .... for example on ...... marriage preparation".

6. "Civil Registration: Delivering Vital Change" consultation
reiterates earlier proposals and includes "Give responsibility for the
delivery of face-to-face services to local authorities".

7. In the House of Commons debate the Labour Treasury Minister, Ruth
Kelly, says: "In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the
Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to
act as a focal point for information about services associated with
births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation
...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local
authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of
their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration
service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local
authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards."
[Hansard]. But Labour funk it too.

8. At the Conservative Party Conference [30th September 2008] Maria
Miller, Shadow Minister for the Family, announces "Most young couples
now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is
no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a
registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to
start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of
routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of
wedding registrars agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting
forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be
made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at
this critical point in their life."

9. The Local Government Association publishes posters for register
offices signposting couples to a website the front page of which does
not even mention marriage, let alone preparation for it.

10. The Centre For Social Justice publishes "Every Family Matters"
[July 2009] - ignoring the policy announcement of Maria Miller in
September 2008 - and proposes, "Before being married in England and
Wales a couple should be strongly encouraged by Government to attend a
pre-marriage information course. A note should be made by the registrar
of marriages of those who attend in order to measure effectiveness and
usage." However, the Centre promotes legally enforceable pre-nuptial
agreements which are preparations for divorce. The £4bn a year 'Family
Law' lobby has clearly twisted the arm of the Centre For Social Justice.

11. At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2009 Maria Miller
reiterates her announcement made at the conference in September 2008 but
without elaboration.

12. Speaking to The Sunday Times [27th December 2009] ahead of the
launch of a Labour green paper, Ed Balls announces that his department
is changing the direction and face of [family] policy. "In the past I
think our family policy was all about children. I think our family
policy now is actually about the strength of the adult relationships and
that is important for the progress of the children," he said. .....
While Labour will stop short of saying marriage is 'superior' to other
committed relationships, the new policy will highlight how much better
children fare if their parents stay together.

13. It's just more 'gesture politics', devoid of action.