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Lord Ackner: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, I too have not intervened in the debates. I have not intervened for the first reason that he mentioned but not yet for the second. One hopes that the 50th anniversary will be achieved this year.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that this is a mild amendment. It seems to have been overlooked that once the one year has expired, it does not provide an entitlement to a divorce. A year must pass and the ancillaries must be completed. The necessary arrangements and decisions must be made as to the children; that is, as regards custody, care or control, access, maintenance, education and so on.
Where there are children and where there is resistance to divorce, I believe that it will be a very rare case indeed where the ancillaries are completed within the 12 months. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would be giving away anything in practice if he were to accept the amendment because the 18 months is necessary to deal with those cases in relation to the ancillaries.
I have three further points to make. First, I believe that there is a marked difference which ought to be signified in the legislation between the divorce which involves children and the one that does not. In the latter case, when the parties marry they take on a responsibility to each other which, after the year, they can get rid of without doing any harm to anyone else other than themselves. But where a couple have brought children into the world they have extended their range of responsibility beyond themselves. I believe that that fact ought to be recognised. The recognition of six months is a small recognition. The difference between a consensual parting where both parties agree to a divorce and one where the other party says, "No, I want six further months for this to be sorted out if possible and if that is not possible it must be sorted out amicably in regard to the ancillaries", should also be recognised.
My final point relates to the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, that this suggestion would serve no sensible purpose. The noble Lord is intensely busy and will not have seen a "Panorama" programme that I switched on by mistake and continued to watch. It involved a young couple. They were shown on the programme as having met, become very enthusiastic about one another, married and continued that marriage very happily. But when a child arrived the marriage deteriorated and there was a divorce.
To my surprise, both parties in that programme were utterly perplexed as to why the marriage had broken down. It seemed to me that it had broken down quite simply for one reason; namely, that they were unable to adapt themselves to the enormous change which is made to a matrimonial relationship with the arrival of a child. It is a particularly radical change nowadays and it arose in regard to that couple. There was no child and they both worked. They returned home at the end of the day having had an interesting time. They were tired from their occupations and swapped stories about how they had spent the day, and so on.
However, with the arrival of a child, the wife has to give up her work. She stays in all day faced with the rather unsatisfactory occupation of putting food into one end of the child and dealing with the complications at the other. When the husband returns from work she expects that the stimulus which she has lacked throughout the day will be made up by him. But he is tired and has not spent the day having a jolly game of golf: he has been working. He comes home tired and expects to be able to relax by watching the television or reading the paper. But not a bit of it. He is expected to cope with the child to some extent--something which
With that type of situation, an extra six months when attempts at reconciliation would be made might make some couples realise that there has to be a great deal more adaptation; in other words, something must be done to enable the wife to get out of an evening with some adult company. Something will have to be done to take the child off her shoulders for 24 hours, which is often the case. Because of the consequence to the father of a divorce--who, in this case, was utterly devoted--with the difficulties of access, the obsession which descends on the frustrated father in that way, the opportunity to explain the consequences of at least not trying a little harder would be a heaven-sent opportunity. Therefore, 18 months in order to cope with that task is not long. It seems to me that it is a very granite-like approach to refuse to accept this very mild compromise. I support it.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, before my noble and learned friend sits down, can we just be clear about what he has described as the "ancillaries". When the Bill becomes law, will they begin to operate from the beginning or the end of the 12-month reflection period? To my mind, that makes a very big difference and has a strong bearing on the thrust of the amendment.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, as it understand it--subject to correction--the ancillaries are available to be dealt from the moment that the 12-month period begins. The mediation proposals in the Bill were designed to take the friction out of coping with settling those ancillaries. My proposition was that if you had the complication of children, or the resistance of one spouse who does not want a divorce, you would not in the ordinary course of events complete those ancillaries within a year; indeed, the process would go on for a good 18 months. Therefore, the amendment seeks no concession of any significance.
Baroness David: My Lords, to accede to the argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner--that the ancillaries would take longer than a year so why not require an 18-month waiting period where there are children which would, therefore, make no difference in practice--is to impose a delay. If there is no delay, the ancillaries are completed in under the year. It seems to me that it would be sensible to accept that. Where there is no delay, the arrangements should continue and a year would be ample in that case.
Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I do not support the amendment. I greatly admire the speakers who have spoken for it, but I believe that they have overlooked one aspect; namely, that there is a time before this period--the time of reconciliation. We have had long debates on the difference between mediation and reconciliation.
Many of the couples whom I know and with whom I work have been to Relate, which gives marriage guidance. They have gone there for perhaps a year or two years, so there has been a period of uncertainty for the children before mediation started. The process has, therefore, been going on for more than a year. That is not good for children. The period of one year is not the only time when the couple have considered the matter. Indeed, they considered it for a long time beforehand. I have to say that children cannot bear such long periods of uncertainty.
I absolutely agree with my noble friends Lady Young and Lady Elles that the children of divorcing parents suffer. But it is much better for them to suffer for less, not more, time because they have already been suffering. Relate's figures show that a number of couples do not go forward with their divorce. However, if the couple have reached the point of going through with a divorce, then they have already had a long time for consideration before reaching that decision. Therefore, for the sake of the children, I believe that a year for consideration is enough.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I shall be brief because the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, have covered most of the points that we have tried to make throughout the Bill on Second Reading, at Committee stage and today. We are still saying much the same thing. We have achieved some minor successes and there have been changes. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has responded positively to many of the suggestions that we made, and we are grateful for that. Nevertheless, there is still a great difference between us regarding the matter we are discussing. However, the difference between 18 months and two years is not so great. It is only six months.
I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was quite wrong to try to pretend that there is a definite period for reconciliation. I wish to God there was! Ever since November I have been asking for a definite period for reconciliation. As yet we have not achieved that. There is no definite period for reconciliation in the Bill. Therefore, it is not quite true to suggest that there is. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who asked for whom the extended period would be useful. It is obvious that it would be useful for the partner who does not wish to end the marriage.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said, it is only just that we should try to be as fair as possible to the partner who in the first instance does not want the marriage to break up. Why should she be told that it has to break up whether she likes it or not? The extended period would also be useful to the children of a marriage. At least it would postpone the damage and misery caused to children by divorce. In Committee we heard all about the damage caused to children when parents decide to part. It is not true that more damage is caused to children when an unhappy couple stays together than when such a couple divorces. There is an element of doubt regarding the reasoning of some people on the matter.
This whole matter is based on the White Paper which in turn is based on a false premise; namely, that 75 per cent. of people seek a quickie divorce, and that this Bill will do away with the quickie divorce. However, that figure is wrong. The true figure is between 27 and 32 per cent. Therefore, the White Paper is based on a false assumption to begin with. Had we started with correct statistics, the period of 18 months might already have been included in the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Irvine said that the law cannot force people to remain married; in other words, one cannot influence people's morals by means of laws. There are umpteen examples of where that argument has been turned on its head. I refer to laws countering sexual discrimination, racial discrimination or, more recently, the movement to introduce laws countering age discrimination. Those are all attempts to change people's morals and conduct through the introduction of legislation. I believe it was at the Committee stage that I quoted the words of Dr. Johnson who said, using much the same argument as my noble friend,
It is more accurate to espouse the latter theory than simply to say one cannot change people's minds by introducing certain laws. People can be guided in the right direction through the introduction of legislation. I believe we are justified in seeking this modest extension of six months. I only hope that the extended period would be used for reconciliation. Then it would be worthwhile. I support the amendment.
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