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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, like others in your Lordships' House, I am speaking in a debate on this Bill for the first time. Others of my colleagues have spoken at previous stages of the Bill. It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that they have not spoken with united voice. That illustrates the immense complexity of the matter before us and the great difficulty of reaching decisions on these matters. All of us in your Lordships' House are concerned to buttress the institution of marriage--or rather, I would say, to give it respect--and to encourage the expectation that marriage is something that has to be worked hard at--as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said--not just in practical ways, but also in more profound ways. It is a partnership within which we have to grow and within which we learn a great deal about our own faults and how to live with the faults of others. What we are concerned about is how best to enable that partnership to be reinforced and to continue. However, we are also aware that there are times when relationships break down.
I wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her tremendous persistence in bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. I wish to make three simple points. The first is to underline the point that
As regards cases where one partner contests a divorce, I have found in my experience that there is frequently considerable bitterness on the part of a person who opposes a divorce, even with the present regulations. That bitterness is likely to be increased with the shortened period of time that is proposed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said, it is just that the partner who contests a divorce should be allowed a period in which to make representation, and indeed perhaps to come to terms with what is happening to him or her as a result of a course of action which he or she does not approve of. Therefore I believe that the extended period would be of help in that regard.
In relation to children, I should have thought that the moment that most disturbed children was the moment of separation which is not necessarily the moment of divorce. Indeed the moment of separation can sometimes take place before--as I understand it--proceedings under this Bill could ever begin. Therefore the uncertainty is created in the period leading up to the separation. I should have thought that any measure which resulted in one or two marriages where there were children being reconciled was worth considering. The damage done to children by divorce is enormous. If this modest increase of six months were included in the Bill and saved even a limited number of marriages, it would achieve a great deal.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I have not spoken so far during the debates on this Bill but I have listened carefully, particularly to this important debate. I must confess to a considerable bias in favour of marriage having had 59 years of happy married life. The point is a perfectly straightforward one. What the amendment seeks to do is to specify that where there are children to the marriage, the situation is somewhat different from cases where there are not, and that therefore there is a strong argument, it seems to me, for having a slightly longer period--it is only a six-month increase that is sought--for reflection, or possibly for reconciliation, where there are children than in the case where there are not.
Therefore my noble friend Lady Young is right in urging that where there are children, 18 months is a reasonable period. I appreciate that it is essentially a compromise. There are many people who would think it should be a longer period. There are others who doubt whether it would be of any great value. However, a small increase of six months in the cases where there are children to consider seems of the greatest importance. The presence of children makes a real
Before I give my reasons I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the two amendments which he moved after listening to your Lordships during earlier stages of the Bill. I refer to the amendment which lists the general principles on which the Bill should be considered and, secondly, to the important amendment to Clause 20 relating to marriage support services, which opens the door for reconciliation or counselling. Those amendments improve the Bill enormously.
It is that second aspect which leads me to believe that we should have the longer period before divorce. If we accept the amendment, that will achieve two things. First, it will make clear the very real difference between a marriage which is not blessed with children and one that is and the special responsibilities that are involved in that case. Secondly, it gives longer for counselling which, with the recent changes to the Bill, we recognise as being so appropriate. That is the main thrust of what I want to say to your Lordships.
If the amendments are accepted, at least two of the cardinal's wishes have been carried out; namely, a longer period of time and recognition of the responsibilities to children. Many noble Lords would prefer an even longer period, but we must try to reach agreement.
At an earlier stage the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the period is a matter of judgment. He recognised that there are two views. However, he went on to ask whether it can be right to require that, just because there are children, those children should be subjected to a longer period of distress. That is the nub of the issue. I am quite clear in my own mind that if, as a result of providing for an extra six months where there are children, there is a chance of reconciliation, although some others may suffer, on balance there is no question which is the right approach.
There was a remarkable article in The Times on Saturday, which might have been written in the knowledge that this debate was to take place. It was on the subject of marriage counselling and was written by a lady called Theresa Buck. I beg your Lordships to read it. The thrust of the article was the need for proper training in counselling and the importance of counselling in saving marriages. She made the point, which has already been made today, that the divorce rate in this country is twice that of the rest of Europe. She also felt that this country should jettison its muddled attitude towards marriage guidance. The Bill would be very much better if marriage guidance were regarded as at least as important as mediation. However, marriage guidance takes time, and if there are children it should necessarily take longer.
One of the problems in relation to marriage guidance is the shortage of money. The eminent and excellent bodies which provide marriage counselling between them receive £3 million a year, whereas legal aid for divorce amounts to over £300 million. That is wrong. It reinforces the need to provide greater opportunity for marriage guidance or reconciliation, especially where there are children. Therefore, we should support the longer period that is proposed.
The 1969 marriage Bill did not achieve its purpose. As we all know, it resulted in a great increase in the number of divorces. Let that not happen again with this Bill. None of us wants that. The signal that goes out should be that children matter, and that in those cases where children are involved a year is too short a time and the reconciliation and mediation will have a better chance of success if the period is 18 months.
Earl Russell: My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the integrity, determination and persistence with which she has fought her corner on this Bill. It is never easy to go out into the road and stand in front of the legislative juggernaut and signal it to stop. I admire the way in which she has done that. However, having said that, I do not understand her reasons for doing so any better than I did at Second Reading.
The noble Baroness has said that her objective is to buttress marriage. That objective is shared in every quarter of this Chamber. I do not see how she can pursue that objective by making divorce more difficult. It is so self-evident to the noble Baroness that that link holds that she has not entirely taken on board that many of us in this Chamber not only do not accept it but cannot understand why others do accept it.
A legal marriage is an outward and visible sign of an inward and personal relationship between two parties. I do not understand how, by keeping the outward and legal relationship going, you can invigorate the inward and personal relationship between two parties. I cannot understand how the prevention of divorce can make two people love each other when they have ceased to do so.
The noble Baroness said that many people draw back from divorce. She is quite right about that. However, I have yet to hear of cases where they draw back simply because the legal procedures of divorce are too difficult. Some of your Lordships may remember a film of some time ago called "The Sheep has Five Legs", all five of them being played by Fernandel. At one moment in the film the wife of one of Fernandel's characters had decided to leave him, packed her suitcase, shoved in everything in a hurry and a rage and filled it too full. She could not shut it. He had to sit on the suitcase beside her to help to shut it, at which moment they both burst out laughing and the thought of divorce went out of the window. I believe that that is the kind of way in which couples draw back from divorce. I believe that the state of the divorce laws, difficult or easy, has nothing to contribute to it. The divorce laws contribute to the number of broken relationships which end up in
As we are at Third Reading, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness this question. When she refers to children under 18, does that mean under 18 at the beginning of the period of reflection and consideration or at the end? At what moment do they have to be under 18? If we do not decide that now, and the amendment is carried, some court will do so at considerable public expense. I believe that that should be made clear at some stage.
We have again heard statistics that we have heard many times since Second Reading about divorced men regretting that they were divorced. But what exactly does that mean? I doubt whether a professional opinion pollster would be entirely confident in using such a question. It may mean that one regrets one's marriage broke down: that many people do without believing that it could be saved. It may mean something very different: that one wishes one could have made a go of it. But it may only mean wishing that one's misguided spouse had done something different. We have all heard people in negotiations talking like that and getting nowhere. Until I understand what that information means, I shall not give it that much weight.
The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, raised the question of the unwilling party to a divorce. But it is a personal relationship. You cannot have a relationship of one. Therefore I would say to the noble Earl that by no endeavour can a magnet ever attract a silver churn. That is why, however sad it may be, one unwilling party cannot be used to defer divorce unduly, because the spouse cannot keep the marriage going on his or her own.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, raised the parallel of anti-discrimination legislation, but I do not think that the cases are quite on all fours. In anti-discrimination legislation we ask people to refrain from performing or to perform an action. One may do that with a good or an ill heart. I may appoint a woman, a black man, a homosexual, or whoever, against my own inclination that it is still a perfectly good appointment, but I cannot be required by the law to love somebody. However determined you are to obey the law, you cannot do so simply because the law says so. If you cannot do that, I do not see how you can save the marriage. That seems to me to be a very big distinction between anti-discrimination legislation and the legislation required in the Bill.
I listened with great interest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. So much of what he said was so vivid that I think we shall all remember it when much of the remainder of the debate is forgotten. But the noble and learned Lord illustrated to me why I believe that the introduction of paternity leave would do more to preserve marriage than anything we can do or refrain from doing in the whole of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord was proposing to lock the door, but I fear that his horse was already stolen.
Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Young stated that we are not introducing a matter of principle but of degree; and that is perfectly true. We are properly treating the provision as though it were a matter of principle. As the amendment is drafted, it is a matter of two principles, paragraphs (a) and (b). I for one regret that they are tied together because I am not sure that I have the same feelings about the two. The first deals with marriages where one of the partners does not consent to a divorce. The right reverend Prelate reminded us that a principle of justice applies. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, applied his formidable intellect to producing intellectual arguments which support one's instinct in the matter.
However, there is a second leg to the amendment: that which deals with children. That is a principle not of justice but of compassion. In my book that must always prevail. Therefore, in order to judge how to conduct myself on this amendment--I hope that your Lordships will feel the same--it is the effect on the children and not the effect on the partners which must take primacy. The children, after all, were no part of the contract from which they sprang into existence. They are innocent parties and are almost certain to be damaged in some degree by what is happening. As my noble friend Lady Faithfull said earlier, what is happening begins long before the order is applied for. That is not the beginning of the process; it is the culmination.
My noble friend Lady Young said that the process of divorce takes more than a year in 43 per cent. of cases. The amendment, presumably, will not bite too much on them. But the Bill bites on the remaining 57 per cent. I suspect--I think that your Lordships will share my suspicion--that the cases in which children are involved will largely fall in the 43 per cent. because of the intricacy and importance of making arrangements for them. If that were not the case now, it would be provided under the Bill not only because of the welcome amendment that my noble and learned friend has put into Clause 1 at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, but also because Clause 3(1)(c) states that,
There is a whole range of protection for children and a requirement that their interests shall be fully attended to before the order can be given. Again, once there is a dispute, the whole process is caught by the Children Act. So there is no question of a quickie divorce so far as concerns children.
If my noble friend Lady Young were to go to school in the north of England, she would find--and she will correct me if I am wrong--that the majority of the horrifying 90 per cent. of children in that school with no known father are not the product of broken marriages but, I fear, are the product of what is now a quite common feature: liaisons which produce children without marriage; and I think that they are outwith the terms of this debate.
We come back to the question of the interests of the children. I have studied this issue painfully and at close hand. It seems to me that the only good that can come from a divorce is the protection of the children from damage. That protection is intensely difficult for parents to achieve.
Your Lordships have, in my view mercifully and rightly, agreed to remove the issue of fault and therefore litigation in court over the heads of children as an inevitable part of this Bill, and for that I am profoundly grateful on their behalf. But one comes back to what is left, and that is the period which started long before the application to the court and will last until it is over. I can tell your Lordships that the really difficult time in which to maintain a relationship with an estranged party which protects the children is the period while the matter is in the hands of the lawyers. That is the time that your Lordships are speaking about. I hope your Lordships will not extend it.
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