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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the Minister but I do not believe that anyone has asserted that independent advice cannot be provided from the private sector. However, noble Lords are worried that inevitably--as was easy to forecast--bidders for the laboratory come from a sector which has its own engineering, construction and consulting interests. It is that conflict of interest which causes worry.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that the point I was making has been put forward, although not in the debate this evening, I agree. That is why I sought to address it. On the noble Baroness's specific point, that is why we have to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest which are likely to produce anything other than impartial research for the Government. That is why we put so much effort into that side.

The importance attached by the Government to maintaining TRL's reputation for independence is reflected in the sale objectives. The crucial point which must be made this evening in response to a number of questions--how to guarantee the reliability, independence and impartiality--is that it must not be forgotten that the Government will continue to remain a big customer. Going on to detail, it must also not be forgotten that we are to provide guarantees of future research work. We would not hesitate to review or cancel contracts in the future if there were grounds for believing that TRL's independence and impartiality were in doubt. That shows strongly that any new purchaser would have to take the views of the main customer of the organisation extremely seriously.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Perhaps the Minister will allow me to intervene on the point about the relationship with the Department of Transport. Could he give the House an assurance that when a decision between the two bidders is reached the commercial consortium will not be offered more Department of Transport contracts than are offered to the Transport Research Foundation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the bids will be considered on the same basis as I have outlined for the sale objectives. The selection of bidders will be impartial. It will be a fair competitive process. I can reassure the noble Baroness on the specific point which she makes; the competition will be fair to select the correct bidder.

In the limited time which I have available, the next issue to touch on is the guarantees of future work. To underline our commitment to TRL in the future, it is our intention to provide the laboratory with guarantees of future research work for a number of years. The details of the financial terms of the sale are for settlement with potential purchasers, but we have advised final bidders that we expect to be committing over £50 million of research work to TRL over the next four years. The guarantees will be subject to the delivery of high quality, independent and impartial research.

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As the customer, we are continuing to fund an extensive road transport research programme costing well in excess of £90 million over the next three years, that is despite the difficulties imposed by a tough public expenditure round. We have to look extremely carefully at our spending priorities but we have still managed to commit this level of funding.

I can see no reason why privatisation should affect the nature of the research that we will require. There is no reason why it should lead to important long-term research work being abandoned in favour of more short-term commercially exciting work. That is the point the noble Baroness was making. It is the Government's position as a customer that binds the process together.

Privatisation will bring considerable benefits for TRL to enable it to compete more effectively across a wider market, providing material to both the public and the private sectors. It offers the laboratory the best prospect of securing its own future in a competitive environment. I believe that the debate this evening has highlighted some important issues and I hope that I have been able to reassure your Lordships about the future of the laboratory.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.6 p.m. to 8.15 p.m.]

Family Law Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee on Clause 2.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 4:


Page 2, line 1, at end insert ("by reason of the behaviour of one or both of the parties which is destructive of their marriage and rendering them irreconcilable").

The noble Baroness said: in moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 21, 23 and 24.

This amendment is concerned with the whole issue of fault. It is a matter of great concern and interest to the whole Committee. Amendment No. 4 is a very good example of the kind of amendment that we should measure against Amendment No. 1 to see how far it measures up to the kind of things that we all agree are desirable.

As I said at Second Reading, I am very concerned about the abolition of fault, not because I am on some moral high ground jag but because I believe that the abolition of fault undermines marriage vows, civil contract and individual responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, made that point very well in his remarks on Amendment No. 1. Many lawyers with whom I have discussed this issue maintain that it undermines even the legal basis of marriage.

I find it quite extraordinary that if, for example, I hire a car and I break the contract, I am at fault. If, however, I break my marriage vows, I am not. I find that as a

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principle in life quite extraordinary. Indeed, I have listened with increasing astonishment to the arguments made in Committee. I strongly suspect that if we did not live in such a cynical society, the whole lot would be regarded as a very bad joke. I am quite frankly astonished at what has been proposed. Removing fault unquestionably lowers the value of marriage by removing nearly all the obstacles to divorce.

In preparation for this Committee stage, I reread the remarks at Second Reading of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on this subject. Like any examination candidate, I felt that I must attempt an answer. My noble and learned friend said:


    "My noble friend Lady Young suggested that we were seeking to obliterate fault. I do not think one will find in the Bill any suggestion that there is no such thing as fault, but what one does find is an omission from the facts showing irretrievable breakdown of any reference to adultery or unreasonable behaviour. I posed a question at the beginning of the debate to which so far I have not heard an answer. How does the fact that a very quick divorce can be awarded in respect of a person who has grievously broken his marriage vows by committing adultery and can then re-marry very quickly indeed support the institution of marriage?"--[Official Report, 30/11/95; col. 786.]

I have the temerity to say that there is a great weakness in that argument. Of course I do not agree with quickie divorce. But that could be dealt with by having a year's delay. One does not have to abolish fault. I simply do not understand why the two matters are inextricably linked together. The argument has appeared all the way through this legislation. It comes out in the Law Commission's report.

The second argument put forward on Amendment No. 1 was by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. If I understood him correctly, his argument was that we are all at fault. I agree; we are all miserable sinners. I am certain that I am one. I do not know about anyone else, but I am happy to call myself a sinner and indeed I am very conscious of it. But the fact of the matter is that if I drive my car at more than 70 miles an hour down the motorway and hit someone else, I am a miserable sinner and so, in terms, is the man whom I have hit; but I am at fault. It seems to me a most extraordinary argument that because we are, as it were, all at fault all the time, then one cannot be at fault in marriage. I do not understand that idea.

I have listened to many clever people with their clever arguments. When I started my political career on Oxford City Council, we frequently had great debates with the university. One met extremely clever people and I realised that their great advantage was that they could put a very bad case very well. One listened to their argument for quite a time and suddenly realised that it was complete rubbish. I feel that that is exactly what is happening in this case. I wish that it were a joke but it is not. It is an extremely serious matter. A combination of lawyers, through the Law Commission, and the Church, through the Bishops, have decided that there is no fault involved when two individuals who have undertaken what must be the most important thing that they ever do--get married and either make their vows in church or make a civil contract--determine to break those contracts. That seems to me to be unbelievable

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and would have been unbelievable to past generations. It is only in our present generation that such an extraordinary concept should arise at all.

I see my noble friend Lord Onslow in the Chamber. He said that in his experience the blame for failure of a marriage was 50:50--he corrects me to say that he said "70:30". We all have anecdotal evidence about divorces. I can tell him of probably my greatest schoolfriend, whose husband told her, when she was still in hospital having her second baby, that he did not love her any more and he went off with someone else. I do think that he was at fault. Absolutely nothing that the lawyers, the Church or anybody else can say to me will convince me that he was not at fault. I do not say that my friend was perfect, but in my opinion she was a very nice person and a very good wife. There are many such cases. To pretend that something is as it is not is very damaging. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was right about what he said on the first amendment. We do need to take this matter very seriously.

The reason for this particular legislation is exactly the same reason that was given for the legislation in 1969. Therein lies the danger. In that case we were told that the legislation would abolish the quickie divorce. I approve of that. I think it is a very good thing. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said, quickie divorces were in fact arrived at by a series of statutory instruments from the Lord Chancellor's Department--not under the present noble and learned Lord but under a former Lord Chancellor. Now, we are changing our minds about that.

We are being told that this Bill ought to make the law more understandable and more respected. But will it do so? What is the message--the real message, when we are not in the Chamber or arguing legal points--that is going out to young people? The real message is that at the end of one year a man or a woman may divorce his or her spouse without giving any reason at all and against the spouse's will. That is the real message that is going out. None of the convoluted arguments saying that everyone is at fault and there should be mediation to think further about the relationship will carry because the central message will be that this is an easier way to obtain a divorce. As Melanie Phillips put it very cleverly, it is "no pain, no blame and no shame". That sums up the matter.

The inference that has come up about no fault is that the law makes no difference. I should be the last person to say that divorce law can make a vast difference to the numbers of divorces. But, if we sit in this Chamber and say solemnly that law has no influence on behaviour, what on earth are we all doing most of the time in passing legislation? Why are we doing that if we do not believe that it affects behaviour?

I suggest that one reason for that--one among many, because there is no one reason for the rise in the divorce rate--is that divorce has become progressively easier. There is no stigma attached to it. Now, one does not even call it divorce; people "split up"--that is the "in" phrase--so far as I can see for no particular reason at all in many instances. It is now part of the culture of life; but, as I said, there is to be no pain, no blame and

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no shame. To think that that is what we believe marks an advance! I simply do not understand it. I shall judge whether we can obtain real amendment to this piece of legislation by what happens on the series of amendments that I have tabled. The amendments are probably not technically correct or absolutely right but they are attempts to bring back some moral purpose to stand behind this legislation.

There was the 1969 Act, when we were told--I have been told since on many occasions also--that the whole concept of fault went at that time. That is not quite true. The present law gives irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground for divorce but, as we have been told, it must be proved by one of five facts: adultery; unreasonable behaviour; desertion; two years' separation with joint consent; or five years' separation where one does not consent. The broad motive behind that legislation in 1969 was to make the law more understandable and more acceptable. But, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said, every prediction that was made about it has proved false. In fact, the net effect has been to increase the numbers of divorces. The next time the Law Commission reports--that is the basis of this discussion, the Law Commission Bill--it may have the same kind of arguments; namely, a law to make legislation more understandable and respected and to sort out some of the problems. We shall probably be given the same pious hopes and I believe that we shall simply see an increase in the numbers of divorces. That is what makes me so unhappy about this Bill.

I should like to take up the point of my noble friend Lady Elles about the American situation. A number of American states have had no fault divorce for some considerable time. Interestingly enough, only last week there was a report in the Wall Street Journal that one of the American states which had no fault divorce was considering repealing the legislation and returning to a fault-based system. Of course, the number of divorces increases. I know the difficulties concerning statistics and in comparing exactly like with like and measuring one thing with another. The fact of the matter is that wherever there has been no fault divorce, the numbers of divorces have risen. I should not like to stand by all the figures that I have seen quoted in newspapers but the numbers of divorces will go up because of how the average person--not the clever person--sees the matter. I ask noble Lords to picture in their minds the young person who has left school at 15 to get his or her first job. They see that there is no fault divorce and ask themselves why they should worry about the whole thing--indeed, probably why get married in the first place; and, let alone having got married, why worry about divorce. That is the message. The Americans discovered that it increased the number of divorces. We should take up the point made so well by my noble friend and look at foreign experience. After all, they must have something to tell us.

Whatever one does or does not do in legislation, one cannot legislate to abolish acrimony. I am blessed with a happy marriage and a happy family life. I say to myself every day how blessed I am. I have seen friends who, tragically, had extremely unhappy marriages. They suffer and feel bitter and acrimonious. The idea that

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suddenly, because they appear before a mediator--presumably they have to volunteer--the acrimony will somehow disappear seems to fly in the face of human experience.

It is easy for me to say that one should not feel acrimony. I have never had cause, so I do not know. However, friends of mine have suffered. I have received many tragic letters from people who have suffered; I have a file full concerning the Bill. At Second Reading, when talking about the Pensions Bill, I referred to the tragic letters I had received from older women, dumped for younger wives. Their husbands are at fault and the wives feel bitter. We cannot get rid of that acrimony. Increasingly, tragically, we find cases of younger men being pushed out of their homes by their wives after being married for around 10 years for no other reason than that they are bored. It is a disgrace. The man is quite justified in saying that the woman is at fault; she is at fault and should recognise it.

When one is married one has a responsibility to make it work. It is hard work. To go into marriage thinking it is a permanent honeymoon is ridiculous. It is hard work every day and one must learn to put up with all sorts of things that one may not like and have a sense of humour about it. Therefore, to think that we can abolish acrimony by this Bill will not do.

I turn specifically to my amendments. They are quite clear. Amendment No. 4 is an opportunity to debate the whole issue of fault. It makes the point that one may divorce by reason of the behaviour of one or both parties which is destructive to the marriage, making them irreconcilable. That may not be the absolute answer. I do not say that it is. Amendment No. 18 makes the same kind of point in rather different language. Amendments Nos. 21, 23 and 24 come back to the concept that there is some fault.

I do not suggest, and would not dream of suggesting, to the Committee that the amendments are perfectly drafted. However, I ask every Member of the Committee to consider carefully what the message is that we are sending out to young people by this Bill. My grandchildren are fastened in my mind's eye. If we could project ourselves 20 years on, what will the Law Commission be saying then? We will have abolished fault; everybody will be able to divorce themselves after one year and probably, a little further down the line, it will be a case of, "Why bother with marriage at all?"

I do not say that as a complete joke. I am extremely worried at the way the argument is progressing down a slippery slope, the end of which nobody knows. Within a generation we have one in three marriages ending in divorce. There are 1.5 million desperately unhappy children as a result of divorce. Anybody who believes that smoothing the way will make it easier for children should talk to people in the education world.

Over Christmas I was talking to a primary schoolteacher who said that she could pick out the children in her class from broken homes. One can: they suffer and go on suffering. Only recently we had an American postgraduate to lunch in our home, aged around 28. He was in a terrible state. He said, "My parents have just divorced and I cannot get over it." The

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idea that the pain does not go on and on for children and that it can somehow be smoothed out by some simple system is quite wrong.

I am searching for the right way to proceed and make no apologies for that. I am searching for a way to make people face up to their responsibilities. That is what we should be doing, not pretending that it is all easy, not saying, as I have heard it said several times in Committee, "Well, they decided to bust up and that is it." It is not. They ought to have tried. Perhaps they did. They should try harder. That is what the Bill should be about.

I explained to my noble and learned friend that it is not my intention to press any of these amendments this evening. I open up this issue because I regard it as one of the big issues of the Bill. It is one by which I shall judge whether we really believe in buttressing marriage; in making people face their responsibilities and in recognising, when they have done something wrong, that they are at fault and that we should say so. I hope therefore that, if these amendments are not correctly drafted or do not fit, something will come back which will meet my case. It is a serious issue. I hope the Committee will consider it carefully. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne: I support my noble friend Lady Young, who so movingly moved the amendment. The purpose is to ensure that the marriage contract cannot be broken unilaterally by one party against the wishes of the other without cause. It also introduces adultery, which is the only scriptural ground for divorce.

There should be a good reason for one party to obtain a divorce without the consent of the other. In a word, the amendment changes the Bill into what I would call a, "No fault, no divorce Bill". By that I mean that if there is no fault, there is no divorce. Everyone who married in a Church of England church will readily understand that. They took solemn vows that their marriage would be,


    "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health...until death us do part".

I am aware that many people do not have the advantage of being married in a Church of England church. Nevertheless, they will clearly understand my meaning.

While I am on my feet perhaps I can raise one point with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. Many people have referred to quickie divorces as representing 75 per cent. of divorces in the recent past. I am assured by the Office of Population and Censuses and Surveys that 32 per cent. of all divorces in 1993 were achieved in under six months and that, of those, only 15 per cent. obtained divorces in under six months where children under the age of 16 were involved. That is an important point. It is a comparison between the quickie divorce and the one year proposed by the Bill. If my noble and learned friend can clarify that point, I shall be greatly in his debt.


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