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Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I believe profoundly and passionately in the holy and honourable estate of marriage. It is wholly because of that commitment to marriage that I must speak against Amendments Nos. 180B and 180C.
As a Methodist minister, I have conducted many hundreds of marriages. I belong to a Church which for the past 25 years has permitted its ministers to conduct people's second marriages provided they are satisfied with the reasons for the failure of the first and that better hopes for the future are in place. Many couples have spoken to me about their previous experiences of marriage, giving reasons for its failure. I have listened to stories of abuse and neglect and of couples who had grown apart because they married when they were too young. Some couples have told me how little preparation they had for entering into marriage in the first place, many of them with a romantic ideal of what marriage would give them. Some married under parental pressure, mostly because of pregnancy. Some married in order to get out of their family home because they could stand it no longer. Some married because the teachings of the Church were that there should be no sexual relationships before marriage. Marriage was therefore the legalisation of sex.
I agree entirely that marriage may provide a strong foundation for stable relationships, but I believe even more that strong stable relationships provide the basis for marriage. I do not believe that entering into marriage, and going through a form of marriage, guarantees that the relationships will be strong enough to support the couple through life's difficulties.
Neither do I believe that there is a simple, reliable framework for the raising of children. We would long for marriage to be that framework for raising children, but the incidence of child abuse and neglect and the number of children taken into care because of danger and for protection from their parents reveals that the ability to bear children does not confer parenting skills. The skills involved in both marriage and the upbringing of children need to be learnt in the commitment to seeing it through together.
My main objection is that the amendment proclaims something which is not a fact but an aspiration. I therefore wholeheartedly support Amendment No. 182A and the Government's Amendment No. 180A and hope that the other amendments, which in my opinion are too strong a declaration of our hopes, will be defeated.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, speaks from wide experience and exceptional qualifications. I do not agree with her conclusions but believe that she made an impressive speech. I have my qualifications which the House may feel disable me. I have been happily married for 69 years and I cannot see anyone here who has been married for longer. Your Lordships may believe that that gives me a bias in favour of marriage. Be it so, but I plead not only that marriage is important but that it should be treated as pre-eminent. That is a word which I like.
I know many people both inside and outside my family who are happier in their second marriage than in their first. A young friend, a much admired man, has lived with a lady for many years and they have several children. They are happy and good people, so of course it can be done. But I retain my conviction that marriage is pre-eminent; it is a better way.
Many people have spoken of an ideal and we should aim at the ideal. I am not one of those people who believes that the whole country is going to the dogs. I believe that there has been a sexual decline but that in many ways we are a more compassionate society. The wonderful debate on the disabled which we had in this House only last week shows that we are a more compassionate society, but our sexual life has deteriorated. We must make an effort and this is a chance to try to pull the country together again in that area.
I realise that one should never mention one's conscience because that can be dangerous. I remember Ernest Bevin deriding George Landsbury, the then Leader of the Labour Party. He said, "I'm not going to have George Landsbury hawking his conscience all round Europe". Landsbury did not last as Leader for much longer. I know that everyone has a conscience; we are all equal in that respect. Mine tells me that tonight we should find the strongest Motion in favour of marriage and vote for it.
Furthermore, the Minister puts great store on the words "must issue guidance". However, guidance is guidance; one is not obliged to be held by it. The guidance requirement has effect only when a person is taken to court. The fact that he or she did not follow the guidance which was issued can be taken into account. That is the strength of guidance.
My second point relates to the important difference between the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Young and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. The right reverend Prelate's amendment states:
Lord Warner: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words about the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I speak as someone who has spent much of his working life dealing with issues relating to children. I believe that those amendments are deeply stigmatising to the children brought up in households where the parents are not married. Children experience the effects of the legislation.
I fully accept that marriage is a desirable state in which to bring up children. However, in my experience children recognise cant and hypocrisy from the adult world. A proportion of the children taught under the regime of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, would have experienced divorce--some very painfully; others would have been brought up perfectly satisfactorily by parents who are not married but cohabiting. I believe that that was recognised fully in the Government's consultation paper, Supporting Families, which I was glad to have a hand in preparing, and from which I believe the noble Baroness quoted somewhat selectively in speaking to her amendment.
I also remind the House that good research shows that the conduct of fathers in married and cohabiting relationships is virtually indistinguishable in terms of their participation in their children's life. As I said, many of those children would be the recipients of the type of tuition which would come forth as a result of the noble Baroness's amendment. I believe that, if we are not careful, we are in danger of dividing children into two groups. In their eyes we shall undermine their and their parents' position when they compare what
Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I have not taken up the time of the House on this subject until now, partly because it seemed to me that the issues were so clear that they hardly needed lengthy debate. However, I should like to say a few words tonight in support of the amendment of my noble friend Lady Young.
Her amendment seems to me to be the clearest possible statement of the primacy of marriage and of its fundamental role in bringing up families. The only possible reason for diluting the language is to introduce ambiguity. The only consequence that I can see of introducing ambiguity is that an element of fudge would be allowed to enter at local level that would enable activists who wish to ignore the primacy of marriage and to promote alternative lifestyles as equivalent to find doors through this legislation which would enable them to carry on pursuing education in the way they see fit.
Some noble Lords may believe that that is appropriate, and I respect their views. I do not; I support the stance behind the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Young. I believe that there is no reason for the House not to accept the amendment unless it is seeking to introduce a form of ambiguity or fudge. I can see no purpose whatever in that. Therefore, I urge the House to support the very firm statement put forward by my noble friend Lady Young.
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