|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who has congratulated the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on bringing forward these amendments. They are important amendments, even if they are not to be voted upon, because they concentrate the mind of this Committee on the children, who will be worst affected by divorce.
It seems to me that we often forget the objective of marriage. The objective of marriage is for two people to come together and, by a civil or ecclesiastical process, make promises to each other that they will remain together, and indeed remain together to look after and bring up any issue of the marriage. If there is no issue of the marriage, it really does not matter whether the people are married or not; it is the issue of the marriage which counts, and it is the interests of the children of a marriage that count above all.
It seems to me that in the sort of society in which we live we are overlooking the prime duty of society to look after the interests of children. Society at the moment is, if I can describe it thus, rather looser than it was in my younger days. Indeed the mediatelevision, the newspapers and what have youseem to say to people, "Just gratify your ideas; never mind about the consequences, just gratify your desires, whatever they may be, sexual or what have you. Never mind about the consequences". But, of course, it is not for the state to say that that is all right when there are children involved. It is for the state to ask, "Is this where we want to go? Is this what we want to condone; or, indeed, is it something which we, for the sake of children, would like to alter?" That is the mistake of this Bill because what it does is to condone what is happening in society instead of trying to send a message to society saying, "Look here, we believe that society is on the wrong track and it is hurting the future generations upon which the society in which we live, the country which we love and the institutions which we have obeyed, depend". That is why I am so opposed to this Bill because, unlike the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I believe it will make divorce a lot easier and therefore more children will be hurt by it.
I pose a question and perhaps a challenge to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Does he believe that this Bill will result in fewer divorces or more divorces? We need an answer to that question because we shall want to hold the noble and learned Lord to that answer in the future. My noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg says that one cannot compel
22 Jan 1996 : Column 818
people to remain married if the marriage is dead. I agree with that, but when is a marriage dead? We do not know when a marriage is dead. Under this Bill it will be dead when one of the parties says it is dead. They may have been married only a year before they can say that the marriage is dead. Our objective ought to be to say to people, "Think once; think twice; think many times", but that is not the message in this Bill. Although we shall not vote on this provision, I hope that the discussion that we have had on the noble and learned Lord's amendments will make people pay a lot more attention to children and a lot less attention to the immediate desires of people who might decide, for not very serious reasons, that they have had enough of a marriage which could, with a little trying, carry on for a much longer period of time.
Lord Elton: This is bound to be a most painful debate because we are discussing what is the least damaging outcome of what is in itself a disaster. Therefore, I find myself in some despondency in joining in and trying to understand how it is that people whose values I share, as I believe, come to completely opposite conclusions on this issue to those of myself and my noble and learned friend. It is probably not too much of an over-simplification to say that those who support these amendments, which are admirable in their intention, are working to a world as it should be. I think the Bill is working to the world as, regrettably, it is. It brings us back to the question pertinently put by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He was not in the Chamber to respond to the fly cast over his empty place a moment ago by my noble friend Lady Young and to return to the issue. However, the question is this: are we trying to prevent separation or divorce, and what will be the effect of these amendments in desolate homes where a marriage has broken up?
The law cannot keep the couple physically together. They will in extremis go their separate ways and the children will fall between them without the care of the courts if these amendments, or anything like them, are carried at the next stage. It seems to me that we have to recognise that we are dealing with something unpleasant, regrettable, but actual. We have to minimise its destructive effects as much as possible. The amendments rightly put the interests of the child at the top of the agenda, but I do not think that they succeed in keeping the child there. They leave the child exposed, to be the victim of an unsupervised separation rather than a legally supervised divorce.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: I have listened carefully to the debate and it is obvious that the arguments are evenly balanced. However, I ask my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to deal specifically with Amendment No. 8 which seems to adopt a more balanced approach than the other amendments. Admittedly it imposes on the court a very difficult task. I do not underrate that. On the other hand, it does what a great many Members of the Committee have said should be done; namely, it mentions specifically the interests of the children. All who have spoken in the debate have been concerned, one way or the other, with the interests of children and with the
22 Jan 1996 : Column 819
sad effects that a divorce can have on the children of the family. Therefore, when my noble and learned friend replies I shall be most grateful if he deals fully with the arguments for and against Amendment No. 8, which seems to set out the interests of the children without going as far as Amendment No. 6. That amendment seems to me to go too far.
Viscount Cross: I venture to say a few words on the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, because it concerns children. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree that children need both parentsthe mother and the father. The child support legislation talks about the "caring parent" which usually means in practice a mother with young children. I suggest that it is a totally misleading term because it implies, in another sense, that the father does not care. In most cases fathers care very much indeed.
I recall a case some years ago where, after the divorce had taken place, the parents agreed to share the holidays 50-50. The children, who were girls, were quite young at the time. The result was that the children had two happy homes in different parts of the country and they had two sets of friends. They had a very happy childhood. The arrangement worked extremely well, and the children were not spoilt by either parent. Of course no two cases are ever the same and divorce is always regrettable. I mention that particular instance to the Committee simply because it shows that divorce need not always be harmful to the children.
Lord Stallard: I shall not take up too much of the Committee's time because I do not want to start another Second Reading debate. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, rightly says that we should concentrate on Amendment No. 8 if we are thinking of dividing the Committee. We have all read the results of the Exeter study which goes into the extent and reasons for damage to children affected by divorce. We all understand the position. As I said, we are not all lawyers, but nor are the people who are affected by these proposals. Most are not lawyers; most wish to God they had never met a lawyer. However, that is beside the point.
My noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg has been quoted by my noble friend Lord Stoddart as speaking of a marriage being dead and saying that it is better for a child to live in a home where there is one happy parent. It is not the experience of most people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put it, live in the real world, that the one parent who is left is a happy parent. On the contrary, often that happy parent is out looking for somebody else much of the time and the children are left to contend with the guilt that they feel because they think that they have broken up the marriage. It is not necessarily true that the parent who is left is a happy parent and brings up the children in a happy background. Oh that it was! It is not like that and we have to take account of that fact.
The phrases "in this day and age" and "we have to keep up with the times" always grate on me whenever I hear them. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke to that
22 Jan 1996 : Column 820
effect. Those phrases are used in connection with much legislation, and particularly legislation dealing with divorce. We are told that we have to come into line with things as they are. What an awful mess we would be in if we believed that and managed our affairs on that basis. In fact, what a mess we are in, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, rightly says. We fall for that argument too often on many social issues. We are told we must move with the times. God help us, what times these are! There are some of the worst excesses we have ever known. We are all supposed to jump into line and forget our beliefs, whatever they might be, Christian, Moslem, or whatever. There is a basic belief that a marriage contract is made forever and that you break it only after a long period of reconciliation. That is what is missing from the Bill. The Bill goes straight from somebody saying, "I'm fed up with you. I'm packing it in, the marriage is over. You have 12 months notice and that's the end of it" to mediation to decide who gets what. There is nothing to say that the parties should assess the situation and not act too hastily.
For my sins, I have been married for 52 years. I would not say that it is an idyllic marriage. It is the same as everybody else's marriage. It has its up and downs, its rows and arguments. Of course it does. But there is a permanent state of reconciliation. That has to be so if a couple are determined to make a go of it and there is any feeling between the parties concerned, as there should be if they have had sufficient education before embarking on marriage.
Couples have to be taught what marriage means before they enter it. That is done by most Churches, or used to be. I understand that because they have come up to date and in line with the times some of that is now disappearing and that it no longer suits all Churches to act in that way.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|