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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, a speech ago, said that he did not understand why the Government, supported by the party to which I belong, were introducing this Bill. In response to that I say that the party to which I belong backed the Children Bill which had as its first clause that the interests of children will be paramount. If we adopt Amendment No. 11, it will not be in the interests of children.

Of course it is in the interests of children that there are fewer divorces. There is no sign in this country that the fact that fault may be a ground for the breakdown of a marriage has reduced the number of divorces. In fact, 75 per cent. of divorces brought that element in as proof of the breakdown of the marriage. There is no sign that it would reduce the number of divorces. If it did, it might help children.

One does not need to look beyond the daily newspapers, week by week, and one needs to use only a small amount of imagination, to understand that the worse thing for children is when their parents decide to break up. The next worse thing is when the parents are arguing about behaviour and adultery. The imagination boggles at what they must suffer when that is happening. I feel that we are forgetting Section 1 of the Children Act. It operates across everything we do. Whenever we legislate about children, that first section of the Children Act operates.

I have enormous respect for my noble friend Lady Young. I understand totally her motivation in relentlessly pursuing this subject. But I believe she got the answer from the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, when he referred to the question of fault and where it comes in the Bill. This is not a "no-fault" Bill. The Bill puts fault in a different place. It puts it where the hardship lies. The noble Lord, Lord Habgood, said that people have to come to terms with fault. He did not say that we have to come to terms with sin, but we know that that is what he was meaning. It puts it in a place where the children suffer much less because it is taken into account when the settlement is made, which is a much

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easier place for it to be. The headlines will be very different. Sometimes they are quite small headlines in one's local newspaper; sometimes they are much bigger. I ask noble Lords to use their imagination and think what it is like to be in the shoes of those children. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is confused by the Bishops. I can understand that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester is a long-standing opponent of irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground for divorce and it is very understandable that he wants to vote according to his conscience and support the noble Baroness, Lady Young. But I think it was the Church of England, as much as anyone else, which some 25 years ago first introduced the idea of irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground for divorce. The group of Bishops set up by the House of Bishops of the Church of England to follow this Bill through the Lords is broadly supportive of its main thrust; and certainly I am.

In considering the strengths and weaknesses of the amendment before us we also have to take into account the adverse effects of the present divorce law. Just recently I had a letter from a friend of mine, which I have his permission to quote though he wishes to remain anonymous. His wife wanted a divorce. He writes:

    "The solicitor advised her that she could get a quick divorce if she went for unreasonable behaviour. This did not include adultery or violence. It did include her view of my failings vastly exaggerated by the solicitor for the purpose of proving that the marriage had irretrievably broken down ... When my wife told me she wanted a divorce I had no idea what to expect from the law. I knew nothing about the law. I was devastated to receive the letter from the solicitor. The "faults" did not seem legally serious enough for divorce. An already strained relationship was all but destroyed by the legal process of fault finding for the purposes of the quick divorce which she said she wanted ... I can accept that there was fault on both sides when our marriage broke down. I can even accept that I was more at fault than her. But I cannot accept that such an intimate and personal matter should become the subject of drafting by lawyers who are required by parliament to put the worst possible gloss against one spouse or the other ... It is counterproductive if the goal is to save as many marriages as possible".

The present law is very flawed, as we have heard from that moving testimony. Because the present law requires one of the divorcing couple to prove fault if they want a divorce in less than two years, this undermines any possibility there might be of saving the marriage. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the law influences behaviour. The law is not neutral. There is indeed a moral basis of the law. I entirely agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, quoting one of my very distinguished predecessors, Bishop Charles Gore. That is common ground between us.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, poses the question: what is the message that the Bill will send out? That question needs to be considered most seriously. But what message is sent out by the present law? That includes fault as evidence for irretrievable breakdown, but we are all aware that that has not deterred divorce. The message sent out by the Bill is that before a divorce

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is granted there has to be a whole year of consideration and reflection and there is opportunity for marriage counselling and mediation. Everything in the Bill suggests that couples contemplating divorce have to stop and think very, very carefully. As the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, said, time is built into it for people to stop and think. That, I would suggest, is the message sent out by the Bill. I believe it is a message which underlines the seriousness of marriage and the vows taken in marriage. Therefore, I feel I must support the Bill as it stands and reject the amendment before us.

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, at this late hour I desire to make just one short point in opposition to the amendment; and that is to address the interests of the children. A fault based system leads to protracted litigation. It is the adversarial system which, apart from being expensive in terms of public funds and in court time, increases acrimony to the detriment of the children. The children are very likely to feel compelled to take one side or another. Where divorce is not fault based I believe that there is a very much better prospect of the children at the end of the day having a good relationship with both their parents.

Baroness Ryder of Warsaw: My Lords, I completely agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said. She has the courage of her convictions and believes that marriage is a sacrament. She believes too that ideals and the law should be retained. I ask myself the question: where are we going? Do we just accept indifference to God and the secular society? I support the amendments because they will bring justice into the Bill where divorce on demand is available after one year. That is ludicrous injustice.

I commend these amendments to the House, but I feel most strongly that the real solution to our problems can be found if Her Majesty's Government appoint a Royal Commission. That will bring groans and moans to many because, alas, haste seems to be all important in regard to this extremely difficult and serious problem. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her amendments.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Baroness Elles: My Lords, I wish to--

Noble Lords: Order!

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I know that many noble Lords want to speak. It only delays matters further if there is a kind of competition between noble Lords on both Benches. I am sure the House is anxious to hear both noble Lords. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Aldington could for once take precedence and then I suggest we go to the Liberal Benches before coming back to my noble friend Lady Elles.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, this amendment, if we come back to the words, deals not with the general points that many of us have been discussing but with the one simple point that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and my noble friend Lady Young took up--that is, the one of the two parties who does not want a divorce. The

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Bill as it stands forces that one person who does not want a divorce to break his or her vow against his or her will. That is a most extraordinary thing for the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford to be in favour of. I cannot understand how that accords with the feeling of the Church towards the vows; nor can I understand how it accords with the principle, which I was so glad my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor put into the Bill, that the purpose of the Bill is to save the institution of marriage. That is what this is about.

What the amendment seems to say is that a person who does not want a divorce shall not be put in the position of being divorced against his or her will one year after the application unless there is fault or until five years of separation have taken place. That seems to me to be entirely harmonious with the spirit of the Bill and with my understanding of the Christian attitude to marriage and that of this House to it.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy asked, "Have you thought about the effect of this measure on the children?". I do not see how the children are going to suffer more by having one of their parents who does not want a divorce remaining married, albeit separated, for five years than they would suffer by the actual fact of divorce.

One reason why I have risen to speak is that my parents were divorced when I was 13 years of age. I did suffer and so did my brother and sister. If they had been given time--and that is why I welcome many of the provisions of this Bill--I do not believe that they would have divorced, because when I left to go overseas to the war in 1940 they both told me that they wished that they had not divorced and they hoped that after the war they might get together again. Unfortunately, my father was killed. I feel strongly about the time element and that people should not be forced to break their vows, certainly not within one year of the application of this measure. That is why I fully support all that my noble friend Lady Young has put forward.

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