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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I spoke earlier, and other people have certainly agreed, about sending wrong messages from this House, from Parliament and indeed from the Church. We have to be very careful about the messages we send out. Let us think of the message that we are sending out to people who are about to be married. They want to consider it very seriously. They recognise it as a big step. At the moment, of course, because of the pain and the blame, they realise that to get out of the marriage may be rather difficult. What we are now saying to them is, "Go ahead; get married. Do not give it another thought because after a year, if you do not like it, you can do exactly what you like. It does not matter about the other partner or the person whom you promised to love, honour and obey. After a year you will simply be able to go to court and give notice that in your view the marriage has irretrievably broken down".
Is that really the message that we want to send out? Quite frankly, I would not have thought so because I believe that the married family is the building block and the rock of our society. Members of the Committee may think that strange coming from this side of the Chamber. I hope that many of my other colleagues believe that, but some of their speeches do not seem to indicate it. I believe that very much
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned pain, blame and shame again. He said that we see it in our present marriages. Yes, we do, and often people are deterred from going off, perhaps on a whim, and deciding to get divorced because they have society to answer to. That very often saves a marriage and we ought to be concerned with saving marriages. If we make people think not once, but twice and many more times about going in for divorce and for actions which might lead to divorce, I believe that we shall be doing people generally and the nation a great deal of good.
As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, asked, what about the person who does not want to get divorced? Marriage is not some sort of hire purchase agreement; it is a contract of love and respect between people. Therefore, there are two people to be considered and not just one. In anything that we do we cannot just allow the person who believes that the marriage has irretrievably broken down to have the first word, the last word and every word about it. We have to take these matters into consideration and that is why I believe that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are essential to this Bill. I sincerely hope that in due course we can come to some accommodation to see that the concerns which she and other people have are addressed.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: In the media this Bill is referred to as the "No Fault Divorce Bill". To me, that seems a total contradiction in terms. In both party's minds there will be a catalogue of faults by the other partner. Very often--but not always--a divorce is a result of faults on both sides. As has been said this evening, sometimes more blame rests with one side than the other. It seems to me that what is being talked about in this Bill is the non-allocation of blame on either side. That may help mediation in the making of proper arrangements for the future of those involved. What worries me is the message going out from this Committee to those entering marriage who can now feel, "It won't be my fault if it fails". Therefore, I support the amendment which continues to recognise the concept of fault on one or both sides.
Like my noble friend Lady Young, I am concerned about the stability of marriage, the welfare of a partner who above all desires the continuation of the marriage and seeks reconciliation, and the continuing welfare of the children which, to my mind, depends on the involvement of both parents. I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to accept either this amendment or one like it, as my noble friend suggests, and perhaps stick to the present five-year period apart where we are talking of a unilateral situation. I therefore support my noble friend strongly.
Brighton used to be the place to which people went to sit in rather uncomfortable hotel suites with a rather squalid woman so that somebody could come in with a camera and take a photograph. That was regarded as adultery. It was collusion, but it was called a divorce by consent until Parliament perfectly rightly realised that it was a very silly way to behave.
In Reno, whether you liked it or not, after three weeks' residence you could get a divorce. That is how my mother-in-law got a divorce from my father-in-law. That was divorce by consent. They had grown apart. The marriage just went wrong.
I do not know that we shall get anywhere by allowing "fault" in the law. We shall not make any more marriages stick together. Like my noble friend Lady Young, I am extremely happily married. How 'er indoors has put up with me for all these long years, I do not have the faintest idea but, bless her cotton socks, she has. In a way, therefore, it is easy for me to take this view.
Perhaps I may further suggest my Life Guards story to your Lordships. It is very similar to a story told by my noble friend Lady Young. The son of a friend of mine was a serving officer. He came back from manoeuvres to find a note on the table saying, "I'm leaving and I've taken my child with me". The child was aged nine months and they had been married for 15 months. There is no doubt at all that the lady concerned--the use of the word "lady" may be a mistake--was not a very nice lady, but we cannot legislate for the variety of fault. Mary Kenny put this point in a very good article in which she said that this Bill will allow a 50 year-old man to run off with a dolly bird; or a lady who suddenly decides to do a women's studies course at York to run off with a waitress. That is because no concept of fault is involved.
However, the vast majority of marriages do not break up in that way. I read of a case recently in the newspapers. A lady--again, perhaps that is not necessarily the right word--left her husband and ran off with somebody else simply because she was driven mad by him blowing his nose on linen handkerchiefs. She could not stand the snot in the laundry basket in the morning and was finally pushed into committing adultery. That is what happens with human beings.
My noble and learned friend on the Front Bench is trying to say that, human nature being what it is, marriage split-ups and divorce are inevitable and that what we must try to do is to make divorce harder-- I genuinely think that he is doing that--and then, if divorce has to happen, to make it not easier but less painful. That seems to me to be a thoroughly civilised approach.
The Norman Church was prayed in aid by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. It had ecclesiastical laws on divorce which were eventually found to be bad. The Roman Church has some very odd laws on divorce and the Papacy has been up to some serious chicanery on the subject. We then had divorce by Parliament. I believe that there were 100 or so in about 100 years. Then we had the divorce legislation of 1869 which proved to be very unfair to women, so A.P. Herbert introduced a divorce law which produced the Brighton syndrome. We then had the 1969 divorce law which produced the Edith Summerskill syndrome.
This is a horrid subject. Marriage break-up is horrid, but I genuinely believe that my noble and learned friend is trying to make the law more humane and more civilised. He is not saying that marriage is a bad thing. To pretend that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor with his high moral background will send out the message that marriage is a silly thing is beyond comprehension. What I think my noble and learned friend is trying to do, and I fully support him in this, is to make divorce harder but to make it less painful when it happens. That seems to be the hallmark of a civilised society.
Baroness Faithfull: I must pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her brilliant speech, but I have to say that I do not agree with it. I support my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I do not believe that divorce is helped by having a fault clause.
First, no one can say what goes on between two people in their homes--in their bedroom, in their drawing room and in their social life. No one can know what is the fault. The fault is often attributed to the wrong person. I had a strange experience when a man looking terribly unhappy came into the office. I said, "What's up?" He said, "I had a terrible fight over breakfast with my wife. I don't know whose fault it was, but somehow it seemed to blow up". The telephone went and he went even whiter. He said, "I must go home. My child has been knocked over by a car, and is very ill". He rushed home. He returned to the office in the afternoon. I said, "Well, what happened?" He had arrived home to find the child cycling happily around the streets. He asked what had happened. The wife said, "You were so beastly to me today that I thought that I would give you a fright". He could not bear it, and that night he slept away from home. Things went from bad to worse. None of us can ever say where the fault lies, and it would be presumptuous of us to do so.
Secondly, the cruelty caused to children by an adversarial divorce is appalling. A child came to my office one day with tears streaming down his face. I said, "Robert, what is the matter?" He said, "They say my dad is a cad. I love my dad, and he is not a cad". What had happened? The husband had left the wife, temporarily as it turned out. It could be said that it was his fault, but who is to know whether it was his fault.
I look at the future. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Onslow. First, we cannot judge whose fault it is; and, secondly, we have to look at the present and the future. If there is an adversarial system where the wife has her solicitor and the husband has his solicitor
Divorce is wrong for children. Equally, many children suffer if they are in a home where there is battling going on all the time. What one has to do if the divorce is going through, and I have had to do it on many occasions, is to make it as easy as possible for the children. If parents go for mediation and can talk about the matter in a non-adversarial way, and a non-battling way, and not in a "I am going to win and you can jolly well go down" way, then it will be possible for the child to have a relationship with both the mother and the father in the future.
If we have the adversarial court system, children pick it up. With the access arrangements after the divorce, one or either, or both parents, lets the children go to the other parent with a great deal of animosity and anger. Also, human nature being what it is, one parent puts the child against the other parent. If a divorce goes through in a seemly, dignified, and, as my noble friend Lord Onslow said, a civilised way, there is more hope of the children having a good relationship with both mother and father in the years ahead.
I understand the point made by my noble friend Lady Young, that we may be sending out the wrong message. Are we sending out the wrong message? The divorce will take place anyway. We should surely see to it that the children do not suffer and that there is no animosity. If one is talking about the Church, and I belong to the Church of England, there is such a thing as forgiveness.
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