Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 16:48 UK

Labour 'must talk about marriage'

By Emma Griffiths
Political reporter, BBC News, at the Labour conference in Brighton

A woman wearing a wedding ring
Labour "must become more comfortable talking about marriage"

The head of counselling service Relate says Labour must become more comfortable with "the M word".

Claire Tyler said a "clear majority" of young people hoped to marry but the "centre left" had been uncomfortable talking about relationships.

At a meeting at the Labour conference she said it would be important in the run-up to the next general election.

MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said Labour was not "anti-marriage" but would have to talk more about relationships.

Ms Tyler said a wish not to stigmatise single parents had meant the centre left of politics "until fairly recently has been pretty uncomfortable talking about relationships".

"We recognise that quite a lot has been done in the last 12 months to recognise this and rectify that," she said.

Tax breaks

She said Labour's "relationship with relationships is a rather late embrace" and although work had started the party would have to go "quite a bit further".

However she said she did not think the party should make a commitment to tax breaks for married couples, which she said was "regressive" and would not help with the most important issue - the quality of the relationship.

It's a very difficult balancing act, we are just about getting it right now
Roberta Blackman-Woods

She added: "The clear majority of young people do aspire to get married - attitudes will be changing and the Labour Party has to feel more comfortable talking about the 'm' word."

That would become an important issue as the election approaches, she said.

Journalist Christine Odone, a former editor of the Catholic Herald, said "couple love" had become "the love that dare not speak its name".

It was associated with people with prospects, while New Labour saw itself as "champions of the vulnerable and disadvantaged," she said, adding a sense of "social justice" had kept New Labour "from feeling comfortable about promoting relationships".

Strong relationships were the "core building blocks of society" and the government needed to be able to support couples through the various trials of their lives, she said.

Education

Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, minister for the North East and joint chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party's women's committee, said there would be a Green Paper on families and relationships.

"It's an area politicians are wary about getting involved in but if we are going to support our families in the future we do need to talk about relationships."

She supported "relationship education" for young people - rather than having schools simply teach sex education - "we know that is the missing element for a lot of young people".

"I don't think Labour is anti-family, or anti-marriage but I think what we have done, we have put in place a whole raft of policies that are about supporting families and parents, regardless of the structure of that family unit," she said.

"The issue has really been about supporting parents in different circumstances. I think that's wrongly taken as we don't think couple relationships are important."

She said stressing the importance of the relationships had not always been at the top of Labour's agenda - but said the government has announced various schemes including money for Relate.

"I very much want to support what might be seen as the traditional family, while at the same time ensuring that all parents are supported," she said.

"It's a very difficult balancing act, we are just about getting it right now."



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