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Henry Lockhart, MP for Lewisham East, addresses a conference of the Primrose League on family, parenting and marriage.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great privilege and honour to address the Primrose League. Through high times and dark ones, the Primrose League have been a beacon for true conservatism, the clear and unequivocal articulation of our values, and the fight for the future of our country.

We gather together at a time when the Conservative Party has focused too much over recent months on personalities, and not policy. It is my sincere hope that we shall return back to what is needed to be done to improve our country. For all the progress we have made since 1979, there is still much more that needs to happen

Not least because I speak to you at what, I believe, is a grave moment for our country and our childrens future. We are standing on the precipice over which we could tumble, losing our morals and values as we fall. Our nation has mere moments, a time representing a small fraction of history, before we face a full blown crisis into which we may struggle to recover.

I am talking, of course, about our increasing loss of faith in family and our increasing loss of commitment to marriage. The statistics are clear and they are stark: compared to 1970, the annual marriage rate for men in 1989 was 42% lower, while for women it is nearly 36% lower. In 1989, there were 70,000 fewer marriages compared to 1970. Marriages are also more likely to end in divorce, as the record numbers are giving up on their commitments to each other. Compared to other Western European countries, our divorce rate has stabilised at a very high level. At the same time, we have seen a significant rise in single-parent families since the 1960s, a trend that has rapidly increased in the past decade

There has been a slow and steady decline in marriage and family, as more people believe that neither are worth it or things that can be afforded. Commitments to values and institutions beyond our own individual self have weakened over the past two decades. Our nation is worse off; we are all worse off.

I do not come before you to blame my party for the terrible situation we are in. Fault lies on both sides to share; we should all be shamed by where we are as a nation. Remember this is not a West European problem, this is a British problem. We are at fault. But I have to accept the Conservative governments failure to reverse course and to invest in families and marriage. Indeed, too often we have to pursued policies - particularly economic policies - that have intensified the self, self, self view of the world that underpins much of the decline in marriage and family

And yet the damming evidence of the consequences of failure is clear: children do better when looked after by both parents, and they do really well when their parents are married. Welfare dependency is lower as is crime in communities with higher rates of marriage and strong families. And the cost of family breakdown and poor parenting is enormous, something that taxpayers should not have to bear but that they cannot avoid. The case for acting is strong. There will be many who say that family structure is irrelevant or paternalistic moralising. They are wrong, and they are dangerous. If divorce and unwed childbearing tend to disadvantage children, as the evidence suggests, it does parents and their children a disservice to pretend that family structure is irrelevant

This means our children are disadvantaged. And when our children are disadvantaged, we do something about it. If we are serious about meritocracy and opportunity, as Mrs Thatcher was, then we should be pro-marriage, pro-family and pro-good parenting.

We have to restore our nations belief in family and to marriage. The new Conservative government should take immediate steps now. We do not have to accept declining marriage rates, and to accept increases in single-parent families. I fundamentally dont believe a country of detached, rootless individuals is something the British people want or should accept. We all want the things that marriage and family offer: love, meaning, purpose, hope, security, a future. But theres too much that favours separation and isolation, and too little that favours togetherness, commitment and good parenting. I accept that reversing decades-long trends will be difficult for a government that does not have long before it faces the judgement of the electorate. But there are things it can, and should, do now. A government that favourably looks on marriage and family will, I believe, be rewarded by the electorate.

What should they be?

Firstly, the government should set itself a test: does every policy proposed work for families and work for marriage? Every single domestic policy should support strong and stable families, with marriage at their heart. Impact assessment should be made before policies are announced, with parliament able to see the results. No longer would we be in the situation, as we have been in the past, of government proposing, and parliament supporting policy, that harms family without us all knowing the full facts.

Secondly, the government should start early in making sure everyone grows up ready for commitment and ready to be good parents. Parenting is the most important job any of us can do, yet we do not provide a single hour of mandatory guidance or learning. This means that becoming a parent is a massive shock, one that can reflect badly on a childs outcomes. Thats not to say all parents are and parents because they havent been taught - far from it. But inadequate or harmful parenting, with devastating consequences on child mental wellbeing and health, often stems from ignorance. We have to tackle that

Giving people the tools and knowledge to be good parents should start early - and start at school. This was endorsed in 1977 by the Department of Health and Social Services who saidwe believe as our predecessors did that much more should be done in the school curriculum to ensure that all pupils receive some education in the skills of parenthood.” School is the only place where we can reach almost every child and young personour only chance for universal, mandatory preparation. It should be something every school provides, and the government should ensure that

Of course, preparation at school ideally needs to be reinforced and expanded, once people become parents - and I have more to say on that later. However, by no means all parents attend pregnancy classes or make use of support services. There is no way to guarantee that, after the school years, we can ever reach every parent needing information, help and support. There is role for schools in supporting families in the future; one that we are dangerously ignoring

Thirdly, the tax system should more generously reflect marriage and family. You should not be worse off for marrying and making the most important commitment to another. In fact, I believe you should be better off. We should be proudly making the case for a tax system that rewards marriage, and focus tax cuts on them. Let us declare the end of tax cuts that inadvertently make millionaire singletons better off, while hard-pressed and hard-working families up and down this country see much less of it. While the argument that married couples should keep more of their than single individuals may be difficult to make right now, I do believe we can go further despite that - and beyond the current married couples allowance worth £1720. We should be providing an additional tax allowance, worth up to £1,000 for married families with young children under 11. This will ensure that families are able to keep more of their income before being taxed, something that I think we all support

Fourth, I recognise that even with a more generous set of tax allowances, some families will still feel the pinch and struggle. Not being able to afford the basics of life is likely to encourage family breakdown and stress, which hurts adults and children. We can do more to support those families, especially when one individual is staying at home, forgoing an income, and looking after their child. For example, the government should introduce a Home Care Allowance for families who have a child under 3 years of age which is looked after at home. Young children should be looked after their parents, unless financially that would be devastating. We should be making sure that isnt the case and helping parents afford to stay at home to look after their child

Fifth, and finally, the state should be more prepared to provide supporting services to families as a means of preventing breakdown. I appreciate that there may be some hesitation to intervene in what could be perceived as private matter within families. However, it is not wholly a private matter; not when children are at risk of worse outcomes, poorer lives and lower incomes. The state should not raise a child, but they should be prepared to act to save a child - and that often means stopping family breakdown

We should harness the power and capabilities of the voluntary sector to help our families. By investing in charities who provide services like marriage counselling, relationship skills programmes, and marriage mentoring, we can save money in the long run and improve lives. As well as improving capacity, we should be committed to expanding access. These programmes should not be the preserve of the richest; every marriage and every family should be supported

It is in the interests of our society, it is in the interests of our country, it is in the interest of everyone as individuals that most people live in secure and stable marriages - and that family is supported. As we look at the decline of marriage and family, we must think of the children. It is up to the Conservatives to protect their interests. We must, as conservatives, return to being unabashedly pro-marriage and pro-family. Britain - and its children - really will be better off.

Permission from Max x
An excellent speech that gets some small favourable write-ups at the time, but is looked back on about a month later and pored over by journalists trying to understand the new PM's views.

An easy issue on which to interest Tory voters, mixed with decent rhetoric and some specific policy proposals. 

+1 XP and Issue Champion trait