Letter: Outside marriage, but in a family

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have just received the full text of Michael Howard's fringe meeting speech at Blackpool on 5 October. I was shocked to see that he attempted to quantify 'the decline of the traditional two-parent family' by quoting 'rises in the number of births outside marriage'.

He must know, if he enjoys anything like a typical range of acquaintance, that a large proportion of births 'outside marriage' are to couples who, in every way save the absence of the ceremony, are as married as he or I. If he did not know this information socially, it is available in paragraph 2.21 of the current Social Trends: 'three-quarters of births outside marriage are registered by both parents (joint registration) and a half are registered by parents living at the same address'.

To confuse births outside marriage with births to a single parent is not merely a 'technological inexactitude'; it argues that, like Jane Austen's Mr Woodhouse, Mr Howard lives much out of the world, and is much surprised by what he finds in it.

Yours sincerely,


House of Lords

London, SW1

16 October

The writer is Liberal Democrat Spokesman in the House of Lords on Social Security.