Blair to advocate 'secular vicars'

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister is to announce plans for "secular vicars" and a network of community "mentors" in a speech to the Labour Party conference this week.

Tony Blair will propose that "pastoral advice" should be offered by registrars of births, deaths and marriages. They will be paid by the state to offer advice, to put couples in touch with marriage guidance services or telephone helplines, and to urge non-churchgoers to put their children though a "civil naming ceremony".

Reports last night said that the move was a "rap across the knuckles" for the churches, which are "seen as too preachy".

The Prime Minister's speech will signal a new direction for Labour family policy which shies away from John Major's "back-to-basics" initiative but seeks to imbue in parents - particularly fathers - the need for "a sense of responsibility".

The Government also plans to create a team of state-approved mentors, who will act as role models with poor teenagers. The scheme will be based on a London initiative in the black community, where successful businessmen visit unemployed adolescents.

Mr Blair's draft speech, which is subject to change, also includes a warning against reactionary moral judgments.

"The sexual revolution won't be replaced by a new Victorian era," it says. "Women won't give up the chance for a career as well as children. Gay people aren't going to go back to the days when everybody knew about it but nobody admitted it, and we called it morality."