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Lord Coleraine: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way. I think that he makes the mistake of assuming that divorce by consent--that is to say, the kind of arrangement that applied with "Brighton divorces" in the past--is in any way excluded by these amendments. The amendments leave entirely in place all the provisions of the Bill which allow parties to agree their own future and arrange their own divorces.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comment. The fact remains that adultery is one of the main causes given whereby one may obtain a divorce within a year under this amendment. I may slightly have misplaced what my noble friend rightly calls the "Brighton divorces", but I do not believe that that changes the basis of my argument.
Lord Burnham: I have, my Lords, but we are not yet dealing with that amendment. I wish to be realistic. All these provisions--the Bill and the amendment--are written down coldly on a piece of paper. I believe that most noble Lords are happily married. But if their marriage has been a failure, they know of the personal distress which they and their former wife or husband have suffered. They know that it is not a simple matter of right or wrong and of dealing with that failure through the solicitor or through the courts. It causes immense personal distress. In those circumstances, surely it is better to get rid of the marriage, within reason as quickly as possible--not, I agree, within less than a year but within reason. Divorce, being as we know, in a way, a licence to remarry, the two people concerned may remarry if they wish; but, in any case, they and their children are separated from the unhappiness of an unhappy couple living together.
Lord Moran: My Lords, we have come to what is perhaps the main plank in the Bill. But, as I see it, it is a plank riddled with dry rot. Certainly, the Bill, as drafted at the moment and as it is understood outside this House, will provide no-fault divorce on demand after one year's notice with no requirement to give any reason at all, not even that you do not like the way your spouse makes the coffee. There does not have to be any reason given at all.
It seems to me that that message, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, given to people in the country as a whole, is deplorable. Inevitably, providing for that kind of divorce devalues marriage and makes it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, less in the way of a contract than something like a car hire agreement. At the moment, faced with the present situation in this country, with so many of our great institutions crumbling and all kinds of enormous social problems, with bands of people, mostly the result of broken marriages, roaming the streets and committing all sorts of terrible crimes, it seems to me entirely wrong that we should bring in such a provision, weakening marriage. As I said at Second Reading, I have the greatest difficulty in understanding why the Conservative Party, with all its traditions, should do so. It seems extraordinary. I strongly support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said and I support the amendment.
That seems to me to be an immensely welcome amendment. When we come to deal with it, I personally shall want to support it very strongly. But the question of fault is evident there. The word "conduct" is simply another word for that.
Lord Moran: I do so because essentially, as I understand it, that is the whole basis of the Bill. The later amendment seems to me to run counter to that and very satisfactorily. But the basis of the Bill is still that one does not need to give any reason for requiring a divorce. That is why I support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her colleagues. It seems to be a fundamental question and of enormous importance. At the present time we should not send out that message from the Government or Parliament to the country. On the contrary, we should, as I suggested at Second Reading, do everything possible to strengthen marriage.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I have been trying to speak for quite some time now. The noble Lord said that he did not understand why the party to which I belong supported the Bill. He also said that he understood that no-fault was--
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I hesitate to break into the discussion. I know that these are very weighty matters which excite great passions. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, might speak first and perhaps my noble friend may be induced to come in after him.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. It was decided earlier that this side of the House would speak next. Having said that, I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House in domestic matters. I should like to reply to one or two comments that have been made.
I find myself in a bit of a pickle. I have read the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. At this point I want to join my noble friend Lord Stoddart in expressing admiration and respect for the way in which the noble Baroness carried out her campaign, for the way in which she has spoken and for the amount of effort that she has put into this difficult Bill. Then I saw the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and I thought, "Good, we have got the Bishops on our side at last". Then I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, and thought, "Well, we are back where we started. I am as mixed up as I was before".
As I see it, the first part of the amendment relates to adultery. And, simple-minded fellow that I am, I take that to mean the seventh Commandment. I find it strange therefore that yet another Bishop seems to be abolishing the seventh Commandment; it is one of the main tenets, according to the Scriptures, by which a man can put away his wife.
Lord Habgood: My Lords, will the noble Lord distinguish between the attempt to abolish sin, which would be absurd, and regarding a specific form of sin as a ground for divorce? We are not talking about whether something is right or wrong. Adultery is clearly wrong, at least in my book. The question at issue is whether the committing of adultery should be a ground for divorce as opposed to irretrievable breakdown.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention; but it only makes the matter worse. I am not arguing about abolishing sin; I am arguing about retaining the respect of the Scriptures. They state quite clearly that adultery is a sin and it is certainly one of the Commandments. Most of us were brought up on the Ten Commandments and therefore take it amiss when somebody who we think should be on our side appears to be trying to evade the issue by bringing in other extraneous matters, such as abolishing sin. We are not
Lord Stallard: My Lords, of course. I can also quote others. A man called Charles Gore, who gave the 1927 Halley Lecture St. Botolph's Church, Bishopsgate, took up that very point and said that, while we cannot change the act of sin by law, we can erect certain statutes, and by bringing in certain legislation create an atmosphere and environment which encourages the opposite. We can use a number of quotations to justify our point but none of us can unquote the seventh Commandment. That is quite clear and it is on that that the first part of the amendment rests.
Somebody else said that emotion was a fault. Of course we have emotion; if it is a fault, I plead guilty. I cannot discuss this and other similar issues without experiencing a certain amount of emotion, and I pity the fellow who can. To me there is something wrong with him.
There is no doubt that the Bill does away with fault. If one party to an agreement can give notice that the agreement is finished after 12 months, without consent and giving no other reason, argument or discussion--he simply says "12 months from now, that is it"--that is tantamount to divorce without fault, and those who place that interpretation on the Bill are quite right to do so. It is unjust to the wronged party who wishes to remain married and also unjust to the children.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said on a number of occasions that business contracts which can be terminated by one party without reason or sanctions would be valueless. Yet marriage is the most important contract of all and that can be broken in just that way. That is where the emotion comes in. We feel strongly about that situation.
If a quickie divorce can be obtained on the basis of fault, as at present, the answer is not to do away with the "fault" element; it is to do away with the "quickie" element. The Government have got it the wrong way round. It is true that the fault element has been abused. But the answer is to improve it and not abolish it. That should not be outside our capabilities.
We had the USA position quoted and queried. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, who queried the statistics. I can happily let him have a copy of the publication, Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation; Counselling Families in America, 1995. It cannot be any fresher than that; it is almost hot off the press. That is from where most of the statistics come--their experience of no-fault divorces and so forth. I shall be happy to let the noble Lord have a copy and he can judge for himself.
That is what the President said when speaking in a national capacity. That idea has been taken up in one state after another until we reach the position quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, where a number of states are looking seriously at the issue and attempting to introduce legislation to reverse the situation that occurred when they went for quickie, no-fault divorces. That is now in the past.
"No fault", to me, means no responsibility; no commitment and no security. It is a throwaway relationship, with children often the victims. Somebody said that it is an issue of conscience. Of course it is. But the previous legislation was not an issue of conscience and yet was introduced by the same people. We cannot mess about with our conscience in that way. The whole situation very much concerns the conscience and those of us who have a conscience should exercise it in the way in which the amendment suggests. The amendment is absolutely right and I hope that the House will support it.
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