Ministers said last night that the married couple's allowance, worth pounds 1,900 in the current financial year, would "wither on the vine" and the savings used to raise child benefit.
A hint of the Government's intentions emerged in a consultation document published yesterday on its plans to strengthen family life. "The Government wants to move from general support to all couples to particular support for couples with children," it said.
The Tories warned the move would undermine marriage as it would discriminate against childless couples. They intend to make the family a key battleground at the next election by proposing extra help through the tax system for all couples and mothers who stay at home to look after their children. One senior Tory said: "By giving priority to help with child-care costs, Labour is encouraging parents to have their children looked after by other people."
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has announced he will cut the value of the married couple's allowance from 15 per cent to 10 per cent next April and further reductions are now in prospect. The savings will help fund a big rise in child benefit, which will increase by pounds 2.95 to pounds 14.40 a week for the first child in April.
Peter Lilley, deputy Tory leader, criticised the Government for "ending the last recognition of marriage in the tax system". He said mothers should not lose their tax allowance when they stopped working, as this was a disincentive to looking after their own children rather than employing a nanny or childminder.
But ministers insisted their plans were in tune with today's society and claimed the Tories were "out of touch".
The Government's proposals include setting up a National Institute for Parenting and the Family to offer practical advice to parents; preparation courses for marrying couples; a new role for health visitors helping young families; civil wedding ceremonies; legally binding pre-nuptial agreements; and a bigger role for grandparents in supporting families.
There was further controversy over yesterday's Green Paper after Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, suggested homosexual and lesbian couples should not be allowed to adopt or have a child by artificial insemination. "I'm not in favour of gay couples seeking to adopt children because I question whether that is the right start in life," he said. "We should not see children as trophies."
In his judgement, children were "best brought up where you have two natural parents in a stable relationship". He said the evidence showed "that stability is more likely to occur where the parents are married than where they are not".
Mr Straw said the Government was not attacking gays or unmarried parents but homosexual rights campaigners reacted angrily to his remarks. Angela Mason, executive director of Stonewall, said: "The question the Government should have looked at is how all of us can do the best for our children.''
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