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Lord Irvine of Lairg: I start from the basic position that it can make no sense at all to compel parties to remain married if the marriage is dead. The law cannot compel people to remain together. The disgruntled
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partner will simply leave, start a new relationship and have more children who are innocent and who are just as entitled to be brought up by married parents as are the children of the first marriage.
Even if people who are determined to part could be compelled to live togetherand I do not believe that that is possibleI rather think that compelling them to live together against their will would cause greater harm to the children since the children would be brought up in a loveless home and be denied the advantage of even one happy parent.
Therefore, I start from the basic position that you cannot compel people to live together. The law can deny divorce but it cannot make people live together. Once that is recognised, what is the point of denying divorce? I repeat, as I have said on previous occasions, that overall the Bill, in the balance of its provisions, is right as regards those difficult choices.
I suggest that the amendments rest on the fundamental fallacy that the law, by denying divorce, can prevent broken homes. I can and do believe that children should come first at the same time as I oppose the amendments.
I find it difficult to see how divorce could ever be described as positively in the interests of children. Of course not. What would be in their interests is marriages not breaking down, but they do. To deny divorce does not prevent breakdown. Therefore, I see no point in denying divorce and denying the regularisation of new relationships after marriages have broken down irretrievably. I recognise that the amendments are well meaning but I believe that they are not well judged and, therefore, we oppose them.
Baroness Seear: Surely if we deny people the right to divorce, they will merely separate and live somewhere else. In that case, they will have none of the benefitsand they are real benefitsof the mediation and conciliation built into the Bill. Despite the good intentions behind the amendments, we shall be creating a worse rather than a better condition for the children. Separation which is unrecognised and unaided in any way must surely be a worse solution than a properly conducted divorce.
Baroness Faithfull: I agree absolutely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and his supporters that divorce is a disaster under any circumstances for any child. Having said that, I must say, not from statistics but from dealing personally with children whose parents are divorced, that to force a child to stay with parents who are warring with one another provides a very bad role model for that child in his daily life. I can only say that teachers find a difference in schoolchildren who come from homes where the parents are at odds with one another. Therefore, I cannot accept the recommendation made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. While divorce is disastrous, I believe that to have the role model of warring parents at home affects the children to a serious degree. I do not support the amendment.
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Baroness David: I have a great interest in both the welfare and the interests of the children, as I hope is obvious from the amendments which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I have tabled. I prefer the approach that we have taken to the one taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will consider sympathetically the amendments that we have tabled and will appreciate that they are a better way of tackling the matter than the way suggested by the noble and learned Lord.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, who said that there was nothing about children in the Bill. That is something about which I spoke on Second Reading, as, indeed, did the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. Therefore, I hope that we can write something into the Bill which deals with children.
Lord Milverton: I cannot support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. As some Members of the Committee have already said, I do not see how it would really help. I can think of only two ways to describe what it would do: it would aggravate and rub up the wrong way parents who, for whatever reason, were finding it impossible to live peacefully together and give decent love to their children. In so doing, it would also rub up the children the wrong way.
As my noble friend Lady Faithfull said, the situation also affects the children. I speak with knowledge of what my wife, who has experience of teaching children from homes which are not as one would wish, tells me. People may think that if the children have one loving parent when the marriage has broken up, that is far better. I do not believe that all stepparents are hopeless. Many love and care for their stepchildren as much as, or indeed perhaps more than, one of the previous parents did.
It is going too far to say that one cannot allow a man and a woman to divorce if the child is under 16 years of age. As has already been said, it is asking for trouble. Surely the couple will just separate and then the children will receive far less help and benefit. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. The Bill could be the basis not for destroying marriage but for helping it.
I put down my name to speak on Second Reading but, as I was right at the end of the speakers' list, I decided that enough had been said. However, what I am saying now is roughly what I would have said then. We are not helping the situation if we make this stipulation.
Lord Mishcon: I believe that noble Lords will agree that the principle behind the amendment is an honourable one. However, the practice, if I may refer the Committee to it, would be disastrous. I ask Members of the Committee to imagine for a moment sitting inside the judge's room if such an amendment were carried. He would have in front of him a child under the age of 16, and possibly more than one. What question could he possibly direct to the child or
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children if the amendment were accepted other than, "Do you want mummy and daddy to be divorced, or don't you?" What answer is the child expected to give other than, "No, sir, I prefer that they didn't"? I see that the noble and learned Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am much obliged. I should point out to the noble Lord that there is an amendment which says that the statement "must also state" the ages and "relevant circumstances" of the children. Therefore, if there is a child under the age of 16, the divorce proceedings will not start and there is no question of the child being in the judge's room.
Lord Mishcon: If that be so, I confess to the Committee that I have wrongly read the amendment. I thought that it would mean that no divorce order could be obtained where the court was not satisfied that it was in the interests of the children. Therefore, if an argument were to take place where the petitioner says that it is in the interests of the children, it is a matter that the judge would have to hear. I do not understand how in other circumstances the amendment would have any practical value.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. His judgment in such matters carries great weight, but I believe that he has concentrated on Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, whereas I moved Amendment No. 6.
Lord Mishcon: The Committee will be saved from a speech of mine on Amendments Nos. 7 and 8. However, I regard the matters as being so correlated that possibly I shall not be deemed to be irrelevant if I continue shortly with my remarks.
If the matter is to be brought judicially to the attention of a judge in order that he may decide whether it is in the interests of the child or children that a divorce order be made, the possible interview that I have brought to the attention of the Committee would be one that would take place and is one that would be absolutely fatal in its results. I repeat: the question would have to be put, "Do you want your parents to be divorced?" The answer would probably be, "No, sir". The judge would then ask, "Why don't you want your parents to be divorced?", and the child would say, "Because I want them to stay together". How could a judge then say that it is in the interests of the children that a divorce should take place? Worse still, if the answer is the one that the child is expected to give, what respect in after life would that child have for the judge who decided that presumably it was in the interests of the children that the divorce should go forward?
Baroness Young: I believe that the whole Committee should be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for tabling the amendments and for drawing our attention to the important fact that the Bill leaves out the whole issue of the effects on children. We should also be most grateful to my noble friend Lady Elles who indicated that much of the Bill seems to be based on a completely false premise
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namely, that what is bad for children is conflictwhen all the recent evidence and research show that what is really bad for children is divorce.
"I have recently retired as a Comprehensive School Headmaster and I am a family man. I have seen so much distress and disturbance amongst children of divorced parentsI need no convincing that the distress in families which have held together in spite of major problems and conflict is not to be compared with the short and long-term effects of divorce. Furthermore it is very evident that divorce in one generation is perpetuated in the next and the more so as it is made easier".
I know that my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Baroness, Lady David, have tabled a number of amendments. I can tell both of them that I support them in principle. I believe that those amendments would be helpful. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will also look favourably upon them. It is most important that he should do so.
My anxiety about this Bill is that it will make divorce easier, and the easier we make divorce the greater the army of unhappy and miserable children we shall have. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is not in the Chamber at the moment. He wondered about the evidence. He should read the Exeter study to which reference is made, rather passingly, in the White Paper where it is indicated that it is considered to be valuable. I quoted at Second Reading from the important study Families without Fatherhood. That document should be compulsory reading for everyone. It indicates that the statistics and the evidence are absolutely clear that children from broken homes where there has been a divorce do less well at school, suffer from more ill health, are more likely to be unemployed and take to crime, and are more likely to repeat the pattern of instability.
Of course we must do what we can in this Bill to try to mitigate the trouble, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said earlier, but the idea that somehow, under this Bill, we will save many children from an unhappy life is a mistake. I was disturbed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, say so categorically that there is nothing one can do about a dead marriage. I am not an expert on this but I do not think that marriages can be divided into those that are blissfully happy and those that are dead. There are many grey areas. There are quite good marriages just as there are good enough parents. Those parents and those marriages are perfectly good enough.
No doubt the noble Lord has come across, as I have, people who have divorced and who have regretted it later. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to show that that applies to many couples. To say categorically that were these amendments to be passed we should be propping up dead marriages, or trying to make dead marriages work, is not necessarily true. I accept there will be some marriages that are over, but they are not
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all over. Surely we should be looking at those that are not completely overin the interests of children, if not in the interests of anyone else. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, do not intend to press these amendments, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will consider carefully the points that have been made to make quite sure that this legislation does not do even more damage to children who are already damaged so much by divorce.
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