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The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he consider that a marriage has irretrievably broken down when one of the parties to the marriage does not wish it to be broken down?
Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, I fear that the answer to that question is yes. I believe that, sadly, the same arguments as I have addressed in relation to the children apply where one party alone is determined that the marriage has broken down. Only the consent of the two parties can prevent that.
Baroness Elles: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, asked what sensible purpose there is in prolonging what he considers to be the agony of having a marriage that has broken down to go on for another six months. The fact is that we are dealing with thousands of different complex cases. We are dealing not only with the cases in which two people have decided that they do not get on and imagine that they would both be happier if they were divorced. When one marries and has children there is another party to the consideration, even if two people are unhappy together. I know of many couples of my children's and grandchildren's generations who prefer to stay together than to leave their family and to suffer the agonies of not seeing their children any more.
That is one of the reasons why I strongly support my noble friend's amendment. What has not been taken into account is that a year in the life of a child is a short time, in particular if the child is at school. My noble and learned friend may say that hard cases make bad law, but the fact is that many marriages have been saved by the long school holidays during which the father will suffer the horror and the agony when he realises that next year he will not have that holiday with his children if he divorces.
I believe that the period of six months is a most reasonable and modest demand. I understand my noble and learned friend's principle that a year is a year is a year, but life is not like that. There are cases in which 18 months is of great value. I think in particular of the
My noble friend mentioned education. It was clear from the report as well as from the headmasters' conference that divorce is one of the three major factors in the lowering of standards, the lack of self-esteem and of discipline and the vandalism with which so many schools now have to deal.
We are not babies in this House and we must know what is going on around us. Some of us may pretend that we do not know and lead lives in ivory towers, but we have only to read the press to know of the horrors that are affecting young children and their standards, education and chances in life. If we do not protect the children of today who will be the adult society of tomorrow, is it not the duty of this House to ensure that every opportunity is given to defend the lives of those children within a sure and stable family life?
It is with the greatest pleasure that I support my noble friend Lady Young. I pay tribute to the stand that she has taken throughout the Bill to see that fairness as well as justice is given to people who do not want a divorce and, above all, to protect the lives of children who suffer not only on divorce but often for the rest of their lives.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, it appeared that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, was asking a question in my direction and therefore, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may make one short observation. Delay means uncertainty and uncertainty is always bad for children. Surely it is the quality and not the absolute length of the consideration that matters. Surely one year is always enough.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I was pleased to sign the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She has left us little to say. My noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg believes that the amendments are ill judged and unnecessary. However, I would say to him and to the noble and learned Lord that those who are concerned that the Bill will send the wrong messages to people who are married or about to be married have greatly shifted their ground. Even though they still hold their original beliefs they, through these amendments, are making the compromises.
Let us not forget that in Committee and on Report we came forward with amendments which would have retained fault and the waiting period at two and five years. Neither the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor nor my noble friend Lord Irvine have moved towards that position. They have been rigid in
Arguments have been adduced in favour of the amendments. Perhaps we may go through the two major arguments again. The first proposition is that there should be a further delay of six months in cases in which the parties are not agreed. I refer to cases in which one party has said that there is no irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. It is very different because one party obviously believes that the marriage has not irretrievably broken down. In those circumstances, and in order to take into account both points of view, is it not fair and just that there should be an additional period of six months for further reflection and perhaps further reconciliation and mediation? Is that too much to ask when one of the parties says, "I do not believe that this marriage has irretrievably broken down"? Is it not just that that person should have as much, if not a little more, consideration than the person who says that it has?
The other major point raised in these amendments is the position of children. The special position of children has already been recognised in the Bill--and I compliment the noble and learned Lord on that. And, indeed, there are amendments which go rather further along that line.
These amendments propose that where there are children, it is surely right that the parties who are to divorce should take a little more time to consider whether that is the right course to take. After all, we are saying, and the noble and learned Lord is saying, that although children obviously should not be a bar to the divorce, at least they have interests and they may be able to express some sort of view. Therefore, do we not need a little more time to see that the interests of children are expressed and are taken into account by the divorcing couples, bearing in mind the expression of those opinions? Is an extra six months for the sake of the children too much to ask? Surely it cannot be. Surely we must consider that that extra six months will certainly do no harm. What harm can it do? It may do a lot of good.
For those reasons, I hope that noble Lords will vote for these amendments this afternoon. They are important. They are the minimum which are needed to make the Bill at least somewhat acceptable throughout the country. Therefore, I commend them to the House.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, described this amendment as extremely mild. I do not think that one would disagree with him. But the question that we must answer today is whether it would be useful and to whom.
There are two reasons why I have not sought to intervene so far in the debates on this Bill. The first is because I think that it poses very difficult questions to which I personally have no absolutely certain answers. Once you embark on the road of divorce, it is very difficult to know where you can call an acceptable and enduring halt to the process. There are those who wish to protect the cause of sustaining the institution of marriage. My noble friend Lady Young, with whom I am very sorry indeed to differ this afternoon, is championing that cause. Against her are those who wish to limit the anguish which may follow a relationship which has irrevocably broken down.
The second reason on which I should not wish to dwell, although it still seems to me to be relevant, is that 30 years ago I was divorced and the fault was mine. Therefore, during the passage of the Bill I felt in no position to preach to or advise others. But this issue is one on which I do venture an opinion.
The wrenching apart of a relationship as fundamental as marriage must cause distress and anguish for all those who are close to it, not just the two principally concerned but very particularly the children. I quite see that this is a very difficult question. However, once one accepts that a year's period for reflection is enough where there are no children, I cannot for the life of me see why the presence of children should be allowed to change that view. What would that extra six months be likely to achieve?
I recognise that this is very much a matter of opinion and no one can prove to everyone else's satisfaction that either side is right. But I still find it very difficult to believe that a further six months would do anything other than prolong the anguish and uncertainty and postpone even the possibility of recovery.
In moving the amendment with her usual skill and sincerity, as she did, my noble friend referred to the jeopardy in which the fabric of our society is placed today. I do not disagree with her about that. But once the point has been reached in the history of divorce that we accept that a year is a sufficient period for reflection for those facing the breakdown of a relationship, I believe sincerely, after a good deal of reflection, that the extra six months would not really achieve very much, although I realise that it would afford a measure of satisfaction to those who are desperately concerned about what is to happen to the fabric of our society.
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