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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: The noble Lord, Lord Irvine, asserted that we do not make marriages stronger by making divorce more difficult. Even if that were the whole truth, it would not follow, as he implies, that by making divorce easier, we do not make marriages weaker. All the evidence is to the contrary, particularly from 1969, and there is the astonishing jump of 44 per cent. in the number of divorces, and therefore in the number of children affected, as soon as the Act came into force. It was not a sudden surge of backlog; on the contrary, the increase continued from that point at the preceding rate on average of 1 per cent. a year. That is 1 per cent. compound interest, so to speak.
There is also the graph that followed. Just as the divorce rate increased so concomitantly did the rate of marriage decrease. Although they do not appear in the same statistics, perhaps the right reverend Prelate will have in mind concomitantly, too, that the rate of church
At an earlier stage the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was inclined to doubt my assertion that the 1969 Act had had that effect. She denied, in effect, that it was propter hoc, it might have been post hoc. She quite rightly instanced the influence of the increasing economic emancipation of married women, and that is undoubtedly a factor. However, married women did not suddenly become 44 per cent. more emancipated in 1971.
There is also the comparison with Europe. Our divorce rate is higher than any in Europe and about double their average. In Europe, too, married women became economically emancipated. The noble Baroness was quite right in saying that that is a factor. There are others such as the fact that we have become more divorce-minded as a result of the war. The increased mobility of the population is another cause and no doubt also the increased use of contraception, removing part of the menace attendant on adultery earlier than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, very bravely asserted that he was convinced that the rate of divorce would decline as a result of this measure. He was thereby much braver than my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor who was extremely cautious when interrogated by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to that end.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: If the noble Lord says that, naturally I accept it: I did not make a note. I am not a betting man--or, more truthfully, I am no longer a betting man--but I am willing to have a small wager with the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, that the effect of this measure will be an increase in divorce. I am willing to have that bet with others. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, would care to take it up. I do not suppose that my noble and learned friend would be willing.
Baroness Young: I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, will not be surprised to hear that I am unhappy about this amendment because, having moved amendments which would have lengthened the time, conversely I am, of course, unhappy about the amendment shortening it. As regards amendments which I moved earlier, I believe that the noble Lord said that he would not want it to be thought that if he was going to lengthen the time the amendments would necessarily shorten it. That is a very important proposition just as it is a very important statement that the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, made about these amendments.
He quoted once again the "quickie" divorce, which occurs all the time. The figures which I have on this matter need consideration. If I am wrong perhaps someone will correct me. At present about three-quarters of all divorces
We need to see in proportion the number of "quickie" divorces. They do not generally occur where there are children. Only 15.9 per cent. of all divorces take place in under six months where there are children under the age of 16 years. Again, these are OPCS statistics.
What worries me much more about the noble Lord's amendment is that it is chipping away at the one-year period. The noble Lord said earlier that in his judgment a year was right. We could debate that for a long time. Now he is saying that there are, of course, a number of cases where a year is too long and that it should be shortened.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: Does the noble Baroness accept that in her amendments she proposes that in the generality of cases a year should be extended in certain circumstances to two years or even to five years. Does she appreciate that my amendment says nothing about the generality of cases. It accepts that a year is right in the generality of cases. I accept that, but she does not. All that this amendment is proposing is that in exceptional cases the court should have power to abridge the year just as the noble and learned Lord has indicated that he believes it right that in exceptional cases one year, which is correct in the generality of cases, should be capable of being extended to meet the needs of special cases.
Baroness Young: Perhaps I may answer that particular point. I believe that the one-year period should be extended as a matter of principle. I have said that a year is too short. I agree that it is a matter of judgment. We shall come back to consider that again and I shall not repeat all the arguments now. For those reasons I believe that to shorten the period would send out an even worse signal to everybody. We are left with all sorts of circumstances to be decided by a judge. This amendment is chipping away at the year. The next time that we have a piece of divorce legislation, it will become easier still and the year will be shortened. We are on a slippery slope.
In principle, I am unhappy about allowing a court to abridge the year. Indeed, I very much support much of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said on that. None of us can tell what the outcome of this measure may be, but if the history of other divorce legislation is anything to go by, we know as an absolute fact that every single piece of divorce legislation has been followed by an increase in the number of divorces. Nobody hopes more than I that that will not be the case with this Bill, but I am bound to say that history is not on the side of those who think that there will be fewer divorces as a result of this legislation.
Baroness Hamwee: I do not think that any of us is standing on our dignity in this Committee. However, I wanted to support the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, in Amendment No. 61. In doing so, I confess that it is a better amendment than my amendment, Amendment No. 50. Perhaps I may put my arguments on the next group in this debate, and refer also to Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 which stand in the name of my noble friend Lord Russell.
As I read the amendment, that is a high barrier to overcome. If the amendment were to be agreed, I am sure that the court would exercise that discretion quite sparingly. The Committee will not have needed to be reminded of the moving description given by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on Second Reading. The circumstances which would meet the criteria in this amendment must be rare and terminal illness is perhaps such a circumstance. However, the provisions could apply also in immigration cases where unmarried partners are proposing to move to another country. I suspect that that situation might not meet the criteria, even though the couple had to be married in order to fulfill the immigration requirements.
My noble friend Lord Russell referred to domestic violence in his amendment. Again, that is a special situation, but not a rare one. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the Exeter study, from which I gleaned that it is right to give the court the discretion to consider the particular circumstances of a case. Although the benefits to a child of the parents remaining together (even where there is domestic violence) might be more than those that would appertain if the parents separated, there may be circumstances in which it would be better if the divorce process were to go forward. In cases involving domestic violence, the partners may have been separated for some time before getting together again. That is a pattern in marriages involving violence. The wife often tries very hard, principally for the sake of the children, to make a go of the marriage and may return home on many occasions before deciding that the marriage cannot be made to work. Where a spouse--usually a wife--has suffered domestic violence, a good deal more reflection and consideration may already have been given to the position before the formal period starts than might be the case in other marriages.
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