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Baroness Young: My Lords, despite the late hour, I think we have had a very good debate on the amendment. I am grateful to the many noble Lords who have supported me in what I said.

Perhaps I may deal with some of the questions raised. I was asked the meaning of "children of the family". That refers to the natural children of the couple; and it could be other children--an adopted child, for instance, or a stepchild. I would define the word "child" as I believe it is generally defined as someone under the age of 16. I do not think there is anything unusual in that.

I recognise that whether we settle on a period of a year or of 18 months is very much a matter of judgment. Those who spoke against the amendment did so, if I may sum it up, on the grounds that a year is a long time in the life of a child and one should not allow uncertainty to continue longer than a year. A year of quarrelling parents is a very long time in the life of a child.

There has been much discussion on the evidence regarding the effect of divorce on children. There is no doubt whatever that divorce is very bad for children, however it is dressed up in this Bill with reconciliation, advice, help, social workers and anyone else we care to name. The statistics relating to children of divorced parents show conclusively that they have more ill health, do worse at school, are more likely to take to crime and repeat the pattern of their parents' marriages. I have said this before, but it should be repeated and borne in mind. There is extensive research that shows it to be fact.

Lord Elton: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to remind her of something I said in a compressed sentence in an earlier debate. There is a very much larger body of research summarised by Amato and

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Keith in 1991, based on 13,000 children. It comes to the conclusion that the outcomes are better for children in divorce than in intact, conflict-ridden families.

Baroness Young: My Lords, of course I took that point. I do not base this argument on the Exeter study. There is considerably more evidence than that. However, that is one piece of information. We could argue for a very long time about divorce. But I draw to my noble friend's attention the very important book, Families without Fatherhood. It is based on research by, I believe, two members of the Labour Party, so it is not some Conservative handbook. It is very important reading for anyone concerned with this subject.

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? I wonder whether she will explain, even at this late hour, to the House what is her intellectual difficulty in comprehending the proposition that it is the breakdown of marriages that causes all these problems for children, not the subsequent divorce.

Baroness Young: My Lords, as I have already said, I believe there is evidence that it is the divorce. Of course children are unhappy when parents quarrel. I do not dispute that statement. But we have already heard evidence from noble Lords who spoke about the effects of their own parents' divorce who obviously, years later, have not really recovered from it. We delude ourselves about this matter. I can only speak from my own experience. I think I was 14 before I met anybody who had ever had anything to do with divorce.

Baroness Elles: I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. On this point, a recent Home Office report, of which I know she is aware, indicated that all the major offences by young people are committed by those who come from broken homes. That is after the divorce. One of the points being made by my noble friend is this. Where there are children, it is more important to have a longer period in which to take measures to try to get over a breakdown, try to stop it happening and try to save the marriage. It is not necessary to turn to the Exeter study. The facts in the Home Office paper regarding children who suffer from broken homes are that those who commit serious offences and those in care are all from broken homes.

A noble Lord: My Lords, will the noble Baroness--

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I remind the House that this is Report stage. My noble friend Lady Young was winding up. She should be allowed to complete her remarks.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Elles very much for her intervention. I was of course aware of the Home Office report. I am quite certain that, if we were to look at a lot of the 16 year-old children sleeping rough on the streets of London tonight, we should find that most of them are from broken homes, with step-parents who have turned them out.

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So it is a very serious matter. That is the consequence of divorce. The point that is made over and over again by Jonathan Sacks in his book on the family, to which I referred, is that there are numbers of families now without fathers and sons without fathers and without a male role model, who are suffering acutely.

In this Bill we are saying that we must pander to the modern concept that if you do not like what you have got, you can trade it in or change it for something better. That will make the parents happier and we shall do what we can to pick up the pieces for the children, who are the ones who will suffer. It is a policy of despair to say that couples cannot consider these matters for 18 months. After all, they might change their minds; people do change their minds. If they had a little longer they might have a great opportunity to do so. Some will not and sometimes it will be difficult. I cannot prove that anybody will be more likely to change their mind any more than anybody else can prove that they will not change their mind. The law can only give the opportunities, and a longer, opportunity in this case.

I was very surprised to hear the argument that we should not draw a distinction between couples with children and couples without children. It seems to me that there is a very clear difference. For couples without children, when they both consent, I accept that a year would be quite long enough. But where there are children, a great many other considerations apply and we should consider those.

I say to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that in all these things we must always hope for reconciliation. A longer period of time makes that more likely to be considered. I am grateful that--as he pointed out--later in the Bill he has made provision to ensure that, where arrangements for children need to be considered, the time of one year can be extended. I welcome that.

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I am very disappointed that he has felt quite unable to meet me on any of those points. But the hour is late. I shall consider what he said, and particularly the drafting of this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask, in relation to that last remark, that she consider at Third Reading bringing this matter before the House again, since it is of such vital importance. The number of noble Lords who are present tonight is not able truly to represent the feeling of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Lord Northbourne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 29:


Page 4, line 5, after ("is") insert ("a minimum of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendments Nos. 29 and 36. However, I should like to say that I was tremendously disappointed by the noble and learned Lord's response. I shall not repeat all the remarks of the noble Baroness Lady Young, but I shall add one comment.

I for one, and I think she also, attempted to help the noble and learned Lord to deal with a very real problem; namely, the message that this Bill sends out to the world. The press tells us that this is a Bill to make divorce easier. We need to try to devise some way to send a message that it does not make divorce easier and that couples who bring children into the world have an additional responsibility. Having said that, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes past eleven o'clock.


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