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Baroness Young: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking all those who have supported me this evening. I am particularly grateful for the very kind remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Stallard, for whose unstinting support throughout these long discussions I have been extremely thankful. I am also very grateful for the support I have received from the Cross-Benches.
This is not an easy issue for me to take up. I find myself in the astonishing position, the surprising position, of arguing a case of morality against the bishops of the Church to which I belong, and I do not enjoy it. I find myself also having to take up legal issues with lawyers who are far better qualified than myself. I am in that unenviable position of fighting a battle on two fronts--
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I am so sorry to interrupt, but may I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whether she thinks it is quite fair to suggest that she herself has the moral high ground in this debate?
Baroness Young: My Lords, I think that that is a very unfair statement. I have never pretended, whether in your Lordships' House or outside it, that I have the moral high ground. But what I have tried to do is to stand up for what I believe, and I will stand up for it in this House and outside. Whatever the outcome of the vote tonight may be, I hope nobody will be under the illusion that the issue of fault will go away. This is the beginning of the argument; not the end.
I now turn in detail to answer some of the very important points that have been raised, perhaps very well put by the noble Lord, Lord Habgood. He questioned the Australian figures, but I think this point was well answered by my noble friend Lady Elles. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, that the figures I quoted arrived only last week from a professor of law in the University of Sydney. They show quite conclusively that the number of divorces in Australia has doubled since "no fault" was introduced. No one--
I now turn to a very important point which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ryder, who said that she thought marriage was a sacrament. When my husband and I married we thought it was a sacrament, and when my children married they believed it was a sacrament. How can you call marriage a sacrament if, when you break your vows, it is not a fault? I find that a most extraordinary statement, and one to which I have not had a satisfactory answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Habgood, said that much hardship could be avoided by what is called the hardship bar, which is referred to in Clause 9. I hope that when we come to debate that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will explain how this will work. The fact is that it has not worked in regard to the 1969 Act. There has been only one case where it has been used and I hope very much that this will not be the case in the future. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has put down important amendments and they will be debated when the time arrives. However, to rely on it until we have those assurances seems to me to be very difficult.
May I say how grateful I was for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. I was most moved by what he had to say and I would like to say to him that in the course of a great deal of consideration of this Bill over the last weeks I have been immensely strengthened by reading the moving book by Jonathan Sacks, Faith in the Future. I would recommend any of your Lordships who are interested in this subject just to read the chapter on the family, even if you do not read anything else. It is beautifully written, beautifully said, and it raises a very great ideal to put before us all.
I am very sorry to have to disagree so completely with my noble friend Lady Carnegy, with whom I am nearly always in agreement. She is very fortunate: she lives in Scotland so this Bill will not apply to her at all. And of course the Scots are going to keep the concept of "fault", so perhaps she is doubly fortunate. May I say that when she spoke so movingly about the Children Act, that is just what does not apply under this Bill. We had a debate only last week on the very point that the needs of the children would be paramount. It was decided that that would not apply because it would put a veto by children on divorce. In fact, it is going to be changed. It is only by the strenuous efforts of my noble friend Lady Elles that we now have a number of amendments which take into consideration the needs of children.
A great many legal arguments have been raised by those who are experienced in the divorce courts. I am thankful to say I have never had that experience and I do not pretend to be able to argue in terms of equality. However, I am reliably informed--and I have taken advice from a number of leading lawyers--that, on the question of acrimony, acrimony does not arise from the divorce but almost always from the endless conversations about the distribution of property, assets
Two misleading arguments have been put forward about the amendment during the course of our debate. First, of course the Bill allows divorce by mutual consent after a year. One should make that point quite clear. But on the question of a five-year wait--that is, when one spouse does not want to divorce--why should the wife or the husband who may perhaps, unfortunately, still love the other spouse not be allowed to have plenty of time in the hope that the couple may get together again? It is quite wrong to say that that would just mean five years of acrimony. I believe that we should be greatly concerned about the person who is being divorced against his or her wishes. That is what can happen under the Bill at the end of a year without any reason being given at all.
I turn now to deal with the arguments put forward by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I like to believe that both of us share objectives about marriage. I would not have entered into the debate at all if I did not believe that the most serious fact of life today is the great breakdown of marriage and the damage that that is doing to the fabric of our society. Whatever the evidence may be, we know from research about the devastating consequences of divorce on children. It is quite extraordinary when we pride ourselves on our thought for children and on our good social legislation that we can accept the cruelty of divorce over and over again.
Some of my noble friends have spoken of the effects of divorce which they carry with them still; indeed, I believe that that goes on throughout the lives of people whose parents have sadly divorced. We have come to accept that fact because we believe that the most important thing is the happiness of the parents. I do not think that that is a very good moral stand myself, but that is actually what has been said in the very pragmatic arguments that have been put forward today against no fault. In fact, what we are saying is, "This is what life is. If parents do not get on then they are free, in a free society, to live the lives that they want". However, they forget that they have obligations to their children which continue for the rest of their lives. That is not a very good message either.
I realise that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor believes that mediation will be very helpful. I have no doubt that, where people are prepared to go to mediation, it will be helpful. But no one can be made to go to those sessions. Therefore, we are still left with those who do not wish to go to mediation suffering. As a postscript, I should add that there is very considerable evidence to show that women come off worse in mediation than men. That, too, is something to be borne in mind. However, my noble and learned friend and I both believe in reconciliation. That is why I have also tabled an amendment on that very point.
We have had a long debate. I shall not continue it today, save to say that we are discussing a most important issue for society. It will send out a signal. It is not true, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, that law
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.