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The Lord Bishop of Oxford: On this Bench we firmly support the proposed objectives set out in the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has

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expressed the worry that the Bill will make divorce easier. That is an understandable fear. However, the Bill as it stands does provide a whole year for reflection, consideration and reconsideration. That is a good period of time in which to consider such very serious matters.

Further, the Bill will provide the opportunity for mediation. With its less hostile and adversarial approach, mediation is conducive to getting the couple to see whether there is anything savable about their marriage. There are also one or two further amendments that have been tabled, with which we shall deal later, which suggest that we could make free marriage counselling available so that, if there is any possibility of saving a marriage, every opportunity will be provided to the couple to do so. We firmly support the objectives set out in the amendment and very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to accept it.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stallard. Its objectives, as my noble friend said, are ones that we can all understand and would wish to see. However, I disagree with my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Bill is conducive to the institution, and the continuation of the institution, of marriage. Indeed, I believe that it is anything but that.

The first question that we must ask about the Bill is: where has the demand for it come from? Has there been great public demand? Have we read articles in the press demanding easier divorce? Have we heard, even from the Church, that the existing divorce law needs amending? I must say that I have not heard much of that demand. Yet we have this Bill, and one wonders why.

I have to repeat that I believe the Bill is not about saving marriages. I believe that it will send the wrong message to the nation, to people and to married couples; namely, that under the legislation it will be much easier to get divorced. Why do I say that? Well, first, we have the provisions for notice to be given that a marriage is to end by one of the parties, not both of the parties. People will then be told that once such a notice is given, "Although we would like you to attend a mediation session, after one year the divorce will be operative." If that does not tell people that divorce will be much easier and that marriage does not count for much, then I do not know what does.

Further, the removal of fault will send a different sort of message to that sent previously. It will mean that all the faults that we have understood which might cause divorce and create difficulty in marriage are no longer faults. We will be telling people that adultery is no longer a fault; in other words, to cheat on your marriage--for that is what it means--is no longer a fault. Is that really the message that we want to send out to the nation from this House and from Parliament? Frankly, I do not believe that it is.

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I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with his background, has come forward with this sort of legislation. We all know that the noble and learned Lord is a good man; indeed, a very good man.

Noble Lords: Hear! hear!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Unfortunately, I feel that the noble and learned Lord is a good man who has fallen among an assorted bunch of anarchists and liberals.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Those people appear to have convinced the noble and learned Lord that the proposals in the Bill are conducive to strengthening marriage and the family. As I said, I do not believe that that is true.

The Government have been saying over a long period of time that they support the family and marriage, yet all their actions belie that claim. For example, the taxation system--on the pretext of achieving equalisation between the sexes--has progressively worked against marriage. Everyone in the House knows that that is true. The freezing until the last Budget of the married man's allowance and reducing its value from 25 per cent. to 15 per cent., the refusal to allow the transfer of the personal tax allowances between spouses and from one working spouse to a non-working spouse--thus failing to assist those wives who wish to do so to remain at home and look after their children--has actually been destructive of the family.

My noble friend said that that argument is nonsense. Of course, it is not nonsense. A burden has been put on the family that almost forces both spouses to go out to work. It is a system designed to encourage women to go to work rather than remain at home and look after their own children. Indeed, as we all know, the social security system itself favours the single parent in many ways, even to the extent that it is financially more favourable for fathers and mothers to live apart. No one can deny that that is happening under the present system. The impression has been given to women that they do not need a stable relationship with the father of their children as the state will provide. That has all been done under this particular Government who say that they want to retain marriage as a strong institution. Of course the impression has been given to fathers that they need not worry too much because the state will pick up the tabs.

The social consequences of the single parent family--poverty, crime, deprivation, lack of education and unemployment--are all evils which affect the children of single parent families along with the fiscal and social policies of the Government which have all exacerbated the problems. Now we come to the position of easier divorce. In spite of all that has happened up to now we send out the message that divorce will be made easier.

The Bill does away with fault, as I have already mentioned. I hope that the right reverend Prelates will listen to this. If one does away with fault, one actually encourages the faults one is doing away with. I am not

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at all sure that that is the sort of thing that the Church of England in particular should be supporting at the present time. Indeed, I am surprised that the Church supports this Bill. It is a long time since I have been to a wedding service in a church but I rather think that that service will have to be rewritten. It will no longer be enough to say to the couple who are marrying that they must love and cherish one another in sickness and in health until "death do us part". That certainly does not apply under this Bill. The priest in charge will have to say, "You will cherish one another until one or other of you makes an application for a divorce under Section 1 of the Family Law Act 1996".

I also believe we shall have to rewrite the 10 commandments. I believe that one of the 10 commandments states,

    "Thou shalt not commit adultery".

However, under this Bill adultery will no longer apply. Yet the right reverend Prelates and the Church of England are supporting a Bill which is doing away with one of the 10 commandments. I find that most amazing. I sincerely hope that as this Bill proceeds through its Committee and other stages they will re-examine their attitude towards some of the amendments.

I am sure that my noble friend will support this amendment. I believe this amendment will be accepted and I am glad about that because it will establish some principles which we need to establish. However, unlike my noble friend on the Front Bench, I shall certainly support amendments which give a much longer time for reflection and reconciliation. Mediation simply is not good enough. That merely tells people how they can get divorced with as little trouble as possible. That is what mediation in this Bill means. I want more time--

Lord Elton: Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I was just finishing but I hope that the noble Lord will continue.

Lord Elton: If the noble Lord is finishing his remarks, I would be the last person to delay him.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: As we are in Committee I have no doubt that the noble Lord will make his own points in his own way and if I wish I can then interrupt him. We are always of course pleased to hear what he has to say. As I said, I shall certainly support some of the subsequent amendments which I believe will improve this bad Bill.

Lord Ashbourne: The purpose of this amendment is to buttress the institution of marriage. The preface to the White Paper Looking to the Future--Mediation and the ground for divorce issued in 1995 in connection with this Bill suggests that buttressing marriage is one of the central planks of government policy. This Bill, as drafted, will in no way achieve that aim. This amendment sets out in a helpful and positive way objectives for Part I of the Bill including supporting marriage and preventing marital breakdown. As the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said in his introduction, both

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the Children Act 1989 and the Education Act 1993 also include general objectives. I commend this amendment to the Committee.

The Earl of Onslow: I was reading the Book of Common Prayer. That book asks what is the object of marriage. It states,

    "First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord ... Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled ... Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity".

I have read that passage out for the right reverend Prelates because none of them now knows the Book of Common Prayer as they use the modern stuff, but be that as it may.

It seems to me that the Book of Common Prayer sets out exactly what marriage is for. It is time that someone supported my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench. As I understand it, this Bill will take the fault out of divorce but make divorce harder.

Both my parents were divorced and I know that they had to go through a charade. I know that their divorce was relatively bitter. I know many friends for whom the present system does nothing other than make an unpleasant breakdown of marriage infinitely worse. We are not trying to condone divorce in this Bill and we are not trying to undermine marriage. What my noble friend is trying to do is to make sure that when divorce occurs--which she has made more difficult--it will be less painful. That seems to me an ultimately civilised way for people to behave. For the noble Lord who has just spoken to say that the Bill abolishes the crime of adultery--I nearly said something quite rude--bears no relationship to reality whatever. We must have a civilised divorce procedure which makes the maximum appeal to reconciliation and mending. However, the noble Lord opposite was correct when he talked about the lunacy of the tax and benefits situation, but that is another story. I shall support my noble friend.

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