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Baroness Faithfull: Perhaps I may make just one comment. The period of one year has started long before the couple go to court. They have spent a long time coming to the conclusion that they will go to court. Perhaps they have spent a long time going to one of the organisations which deals with reconciliation. So in effect divorce has been considered for one, two or three years before they go to court. With regret, I disagree with my noble friend Lady Young. I believe that the period of one year is the end because there have been many times before when the matters have been considered. To have the period very much longer will be very damaging to the children.
Baroness Elles: On this occasion I regret that I do not agree with my noble friend Lady Faithfull. She has been talking about the situation where there has been acrimony in the family for some time and a decision has been made that they want to break up. I quite understand that there are such situations; but there are others as well and that is the difficulty of this Bill. One is dealing with human nature because, as in Anna Karenina, happy families are happy for all the same reasons, but unhappiness is different in every family. That has to be taken into account. Perhaps I may give another example. People may have been happily married until they are 40, 50 or 55 years of age. My noble friend Lady Young touched on the subject of a man who goes off and has an affair. It could equally well be a woman, but in this case, as I happen to be a woman, I shall give an example of a man. That may happen within 24 hours and it may not be something that has gone on for three or four years. The affair might have taken place within a month or a week, or whatever. The man goes off with another woman. The shorter the time in which he can obtain a divorce and marry the other woman, the more power that other woman has on the man. Now that one no longer accepts that adultery is a fault and is not a ground for divorce, any woman--and she may be 40 or 45 years of age and not married--may say, "I am going to hang on to this chap because in a year he will get a divorce". The wife left at home does not have to consent. The man merely has to go to court and put in a statement saying that the marriage has broken down and that is it.
The more we realise that there are such situations, the better. I do not say that it is the only situation, but it is something which must be taken into account when discussing these issues. One has a situation where a person has been married for 20 or 30 years, has given up a career to look after the family, and has been happily married, as far as they knew, until perhaps last week or last month. So often one hears grandchildren discussing such matters and saying, "He is going through the male menopause"--I apologise for using that phrase. But so often one hears that as a comment from the grandchildren and the young on the father who has gone off with someone else. We must recognise that that is a genuine situation.
Therefore, I wonder about the wisdom of having a specified term of one year in all circumstances. I know that what I am saying is not in accordance with the way in which the Bill is now drafted, but I very much hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will take the situations that I have described into account because they are now much more prevalent than used to be the case. Very often in the past a man who had had an affair would return to his family. That was often because of the stigma of divorce and because of a recognition of the value of the family. Regrettably, however, that is no longer what happens in today's climate. We have to recognise what happens when a woman is left at home, having sacrificed her career and with very little income. We shall come to the issue of pensions later. The current provisions will leave such a woman without the ability to make any decision about her future. That is why I very much support my noble friend Lady Young. I am not sure that 18 months is the correct period because I do not think that it is possible to specify any definite period which can meet each individual situation. That is the problem that I face with this Bill.
Lord Marsh: I know that noble Lords, like, I am sure, many other people, rightly have a high opinion of the knowledge and wisdom that is resident in this Chamber, but I think that we could overdo that in relation to the rest of the human race. I am sure that there are occasions when someone who has been happily married for 20 or 30 years meets an attractive young lady across a bar one night and breaks up the marriage in 24 hours, but that is no more common among the generality of the population than it would be in this House. Indeed, to suggest that either House of Parliament should take totally unto itself the possession of ultimate wisdom in relation to human relationships does not carry a great deal of weight. Those things happen, but they are not the normality. Most ordinary, half-intelligent people (on a par with many of us, including myself) recognise very rapidly at the lowest level the sheer horrendous nature of the economic consequences of such a break-up. Most of those people are moved by their children crying and getting upset, as most of us would be moved in such circumstances.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. I find it extraordinary that it is suggested that after the collapse of a formerly loving relationship a year is too short a period in which to have thought about it, weighed up the consequences and realised what the break-up means for everybody concerned. If that is so, frankly I can see no reason why the parties should suddenly begin to understand all that simply because they are in the second year of that period.
Of course the situation of the abandoned spouse is tragic. It is not always the woman who is abandoned; it sometimes happens to the man. And of course, specifying one year, two years or five years is irrelevant because that spouse does not want a divorce.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who said that it is possible that the intention behind the amendment is simply to make divorce less likely, regardless of the circumstances. I do not think that that
Lord Acton: I harken to the wisdom of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has just said. I believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has got it right and that one year is the correct period.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: I should like to express my sympathy with the position of an abandoned spouse--often, as has been said, an older woman, but it could be a man--who does not agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. After all, that party has as many rights in the marriage as the man or woman who has run away, but that point seems to have been forgotten. Like my noble friend Lady Young, I cannot see why it is proposed that the law should be changed. Therefore, I particularly support subsection (3A) of her amendment and hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will reconsider the matter, bearing in mind that only one party to the marriage may think that it has irretrievably broken down.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: I listened with great attention to the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Elles, because I know that they expressed the concerns of the many people outside this Committee who regard the amendment as crucial. However, I must ask myself what purpose would be achieved by extending the period. Would that somehow improve the chances of saving that particular marriage? Is the marriage more likely to be saved over a two-year period for reflection and consideration than over a one-year period? Sadly, I am not convinced that the extra year would reasonably strengthen the chances of saving a marriage. If the period was increased, would it act as a significant deterrent to those whose marriages are breaking up? Again, sadly, I believe that those who are set on breaking up their marriage will live apart or will live totally separate lives, and that increasing the period will not act as any significant disincentive to a separation. In a way, I wish that it would.
If, by increasing the period, we could significantly reduce the number of divorces, there might be a lot to be said for it, but I do not honestly think that that would act as any kind of disincentive or sanction. I shall not mention the disadvantages of increasing the period because the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has already spelt them out and I have nothing to add to what he said.
As I have said, I have listened to this debate with great attention and shall continue to listen to see whether any significant purpose may be achieved by increasing the period. However, at the moment, I have to say--albeit reluctantly--that I can see no significant advantage in that.
Lord Stallard: I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in this amendment. She is right that this is the time and the place in which to air all the views on this matter so that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can take them away and discuss all the points that have been raised.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young--the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, was also right--that we are not attempting to reduce the period; we are simply seeking to leave it as it is. As the right reverend Prelate said, there is no clamour for this change from people outside this Committee. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I have received correspondence on this and there is certainly no clamour from people outside for making divorce easier. I accept that there is no clamour for making it harder, but there is a tendency in this Bill, and sometimes in some of the speeches that we have heard, to undermine the basis of marriage and to undermine marriage as a sacrament and way of life while promoting divorce as a better alternative as soon as any trouble arises. That is what is upsetting many people outside and that is what vexes me. That point of view must be considered seriously.
We should not simply say that the provisions should state one year because that is what we think, because thousands of people out there do not agree with that and their views must be considered. They have to be represented by someone and I am happy to help to represent those people who do not want divorce to be made easier at the expense of everything about marriage in which they have always believed. This Committee should at least consider seriously whether the provisions are best left as they are with periods of two and five years, or whether divorce should be available at the whim of only one of the parties who might say that the period should be 12 months. Is not that an incentive to increase the number of divorces?
I am still not convinced. My problem is that I believe basically that rather than assist the situation the Bill makes divorce easier. I am trying to overcome that, but I am having great difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that the Bill makes divorce too easy and is an incentive for people not to try to make the marriage work when there are difficulties but to take the easy way out. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will listen to all the points made in the debate. I hope that he will come back with something that tries to meet the fears and worries of those who agree with the amendment.
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