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The Lord Bishop of Oxford: Perhaps I may say this to the noble Baroness. Speaking for myself, and I think

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for various other bishops, we yet remain to be convinced of the advantage of increasing that period. We are still open to the argument but we are not yet convinced.

Baroness Young: I thank the right reverend Prelate. I appreciate that. I believe that the right reverend Prelate stated that he did not think that extending the year would improve the chance of saving marriages. However, what it might just do--it is again a matter of judgment--is to send a signal to those embarking on marriage. For those embarking on marriage, it is a hard undertaking. It seems to be thought that marriage is easy, but it is not. It is not easy for anyone, whether or not he or she is happily married. It is something that one has to work at. Marriage requires a great deal of unselfishness, and thought for someone else.

If we say at the beginning of a marriage, "Of course, if it all gets too difficult you can pack it in at the end of the year", one is sending a very strange signal to the country. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, shakes his head. That is the signal which will be sent to the young people who will be the first to be involved under this legislation. Those who are 16 now may marry in five, six or seven years' time. There will probably be that many more divorces at the end of the year.

Lord Marsh: I was simply shaking my head as an indication that there could possibly be a different view.

Baroness Young: I entirely agree. We can all have different views. I do not happen to agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and we can agree to differ without, I hope, any hard feelings.

Like the noble and learned Lord, I think that the issue is central to this piece of legislation. It is very important. Perhaps we all need to reflect carefully on a number of issues: the length of time proposed; perhaps an amendment to Clause 10; and other considerations which may apply. A number of constructive suggestions have been made. I hope that perhaps I may have an opportunity to discuss these matters with my noble and learned friend before we reach Report stage.

The Lord Chancellor: Perhaps I should say that my noble friend has always an opportunity to discuss anything she wishes with her noble and learned friend.

Baroness Young: Perhaps we might talk about the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 4, line 15, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (3A) below,").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 42 and 51 are tabled in my name. During a previous debate at an earlier stage, my noble friend Lord Elton invited me to dip my toes into the debate; I think that he meant that debate. However, in view of the manner in which amendments are grouped, and what I consider to be the relative importance of this amendment, it seemed better procedurally that I did not seek to advance my amendment into an earlier group.

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Amendment No. 42 is a paving amendment. The short purpose and intended effect of Amendment No. 51 is that unless and until husband and wife are agreed that their marriage is at best an empty shell, the divorce process shall not end but may continue for up to three years from the making of the statement which originated the process. That would be an additional two years.

Amendment No. 51 inserts the new subsection (3A) to Clause 7 of the Bill in the following terms:

    "In any case where, by the end of the period of one year, one only of the parties has made a statement, the period for reflection and consideration does not then end but continues until the end of a further period of two years unless, in the meantime, the other party makes a statement, in which case the period then ends".

I intend to put forward for discussion this afternoon the case that we must distance ourselves a little in the Bill from unilateral divorce obtained on the request of one party only against the wishes of the other party. I make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, that that is my agenda. Although I appreciate that the party who may be prevented from obtaining a divorce as quickly as he or she may wish may be in a position of hardship as a result of the amendment, if it were accepted, that is only a consequential effect of the amendment. It is not my intention that the amendment should punish anyone.

The same case has already been cogently argued in debates on amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Young which sought a return to the fault-based system. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Ashbourne, my noble friend also spoke in support of an amendment calling for a total ban on divorce except by the agreement of both husband and wife.

I support most strongly the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, pointing out that the Bill simply does not send out the right message so long as it proclaims that marriage is no more than a piece of paper. The marriage which this Bill offers resembles closely the piece of paper which Neville Chamberlain held in his hand with such good intentions so many years ago.

Having said that, I have to say to the Committee that I find it difficult to support the amendments so far debated which have the effect of writing unilateral divorce on demand out of the Bill, were it possible to improve the Bill in some other way. It is another way of achieving that objective that I wish to address now.

We are aware that the Zeitgeist demands that anyone who suggests that the divorce process should be in any way extended is told that to place obstacles in the way of a speedy and harmonious divorce will damage the harmonious relationships between the former husband and wife and their future spouses, and their subsequent spouses and lovers, and will hurt all the children involved in the marital restructuring and what comes after. The answer to that is that if a divorce is capable of being harmonious, it will be harmonious. However, my amendment unfortunately does not address the case where a harmonious divorce is likely to be achieved. It addresses the case where, frankly, husband or wife drags his or her foot. The reason may be a good or bad one.

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In the language of the Zeitgeist it has to be bad. The Law Commission report and all that has followed make it quite clear that a husband or wife who does not wish a divorce is likely to be stereotyped as unreasonable, irresponsible or vindictive. From the other point of view, the party who starts the divorce process will be seen not as abandoning his family and marriage but as escaping from a loveless marriage.

In my submission, we would be acting with grievous injustice were we to legislate on the hypothesis that a husband or wife who expressed a wish that there should be no divorce were to be treated with contempt.

What of the children in all this? The period of uncertainty will be lengthened; the rancour may continue. But there will be a longer period in which the parties will have the opportunity to adjust to new residential and contact arrangements for their children, a longer period before the parties can enter into new marriages, and a longer period of adjustment for all concerned. Those may or may not be bad results. Against the spirit of the Bill, I would assert that the general rule should be treated as applying: that whatever is not done in a hurry is likely to be better done in the long run.

There is the important question whether the children will be unduly harmed by delay in the divorce. The issue has been raised from time to time. It comes back to the much more important question whether more harm is done by parental conflict than by divorce itself, because the effect of delay and uncertainty is only one aspect of the total effect of conflict.

At col. 824 of the Official Report yesterday I questioned the received wisdom which was put loosely because it is a complicated subject. The received wisdom is that the conflict causes more distress to children than the divorce. That proposition is put forward again and again in the White Paper and unidentified recent research is given as the authority for it. I asked my noble and learned friend at some point to provide chapter and verse to flesh out the assertions and I hope that he will do so in due course.

If we legislate for divorce on unilateral demand, however the proposals are wrapped up with pretty ribbons and pious protestations that the proposals are supportive and not destructive of marriage as an institution, we shall paradoxically create a situation where we simultaneously destroy the institution of marriage and destroy the need for any legislative framework for the ending of civil marriages. For if marriage is to be no more than a piece of paper, a casual short term contract, who, I ask, will need the right to divorce? All that it will achieve is the right to contract another similar marriage. More importantly, we also damage the incentive to enter into marriage and to undertake the good commitments which marriage should involve for couples who may be pondering between marriage and cohabitation.

The last point which I wish to make is one which I have made before. It is that although we cannot, by passing laws, hold marriages together, we can at least pass laws which provide a framework of support for marriage. For a couple embarking on marriage, unless

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they are cynically uncertain of each other and themselves and of the likelihood of their being constant to each other and to their vows, it will be a strength to know that without mutual agreement neither can abrogate the marriage. There can be no abrogation of marriage on demand. In that way trust will be fostered and with trust there will be a better chance that the marriage will deepen and thrive. In the last resort, with that thought in mind, I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Monson: I could not possibly support the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to lengthen the period proposed from one year to two, or even 18 months in all cases. Incidentally, I did not wish to interrupt her closing remarks on the previous amendment, but I believe that she was mistaken in suggesting that marriages could be terminated after one year under the Bill as it stands. As I understood the comments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor yesterday, in responding to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, no marriage could be terminated in less than two years from the date of the wedding.

However, there is something to be said for the compromise represented by the pair of amendments, Amendments Nos. 42 and 51. The occasions when one hitherto happily married partner in a marriage runs off with a younger person after many years, indeed decades of marriage, is by no means as infrequent as some Members of the Committee have suggested. A longer period would give more time for second thoughts and for disillusionment to set in in such instances.

But I wonder whether the extra two-year period suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, goes a little too far. An extra 12 months would probably be adequate. However, having said that, I broadly support the principle of the amendments.

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