|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I support this amendment. Much of the discourse about divorce treats the question as if it concerned only husband and wife. There have been signs of that in today's debate. The great value of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her splendid speech in support of it, is that it focuses clearly on the fact that as soon as a child is born the marriage is concerned with more than husband and wife. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the right reverend Prelate and many others.
There is a focus as if there were only husband and wife. We have heard today of a dead marriage. If there is a living child, the marriage is not dead. Earlier in our deliberations there was talk of the parties being locked in a loveless marriage. How many marriages are there where parents do not love their children? By focusing exclusively on husband and wife one loses sight of the fact that the first of the purposes for which marriage is ordained is the procreation of children. That is also the first purpose that a sociologist will accept. Even today
Earl Russell: My Lords, I merely wish to say to the noble and learned Lord that I have spoken of the interest of children in these amendments at such length at earlier stages of the Bill that I chose not to do it again.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said, and said truly, that uncertainty is bad for a child, and that was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. So it is. But there are two things to say. The first is that responsible parents can shield the child from uncertainty to a large extent during these painful processes, and wise counselling can help them to do so. The second is that, although there is uncertainty, we now know for certain that divorce is very bad for a child. The statistics have been mulled over in the course of our deliberations but, in the end, one comes down to this. When there is a divorce, there are two families to be supported. Remarkably few people in this country can afford more than one family. More often than not the result is that both families go down to subsistence level; income support level. After the divorce, which is a licence to remarry, there is the gravely damaging conflict of loyalty in the mind of a child between two families, with probably a surrogate parent being substituted for the natural parent.
It is not much to ask that, where a child is involved, the parties should consider the matter for an extra six months and be helped to have regard to their responsibilities to the child as well as to each other.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I hope I may briefly trespass upon your time. I suppose in some way I have a double interest in this amendment which I should declare. The first lies in the fact that I have been through the divorce courts myself; the second is that I am the father of four grown-up children and, through a second marriage, I have inherited two grown-up stepsons. I have therefore listened very closely to many of the proceedings on this Bill and have a great deal of sympathy with the purpose underlying the amendments which have been tabled and which have been so movingly addressed by many of your Lordships. However, I do not agree with them, for the following two reasons.
First, I think it is very often the case that the breakdown of a marriage is the product of a lengthy period of decline in the relationship between the partners to that marriage. That period sometimes lasts for years
Secondly--I am not in a position to enumerate in how many instances--it is quite often the case that, where there are children of the marriage, the children themselves, assuming they are of a certain age, contribute to the continuing relationship between the father and the mother even when they find it difficult to continue to live together. The influence of the children helps to continue the marriage, very often in time bringing about a reconciliation, sometimes after a period of separation. I do not believe that formalising arrangements in the sense that is proposed will help in those processes, nor that protracting the processes through the introduction of a law will help to bring about greater contentment between the two people concerned or greater happiness for any children of that marriage.
I very much agree with the point that was made by my noble friend Lord Perth that there should be better guidance for marriage. However, guidance for marriage should come before marriage. That is where the emphasis is needed. It is where Churches of all denominations have a major responsibility and part to play in the advice they give to people before they marry.
It is not a question of making divorce easier or harder; divorce is usually hard. We should be considering how to make marriage more difficult, the result of a more thought-through process by the partners concerned. Then there would be less divorce because the product of that relationship, when marriage comes about, would be the result of careful thought and long drawn out consideration. I hope that we shall reject the amendments and concentrate on guidance before marriage.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support the amendment. I put one down at Report stage which would have had largely the same effect. However, it had one other feature: it provided that either party should be able to appeal to the court if they felt that the interests of the children would be disadvantaged by the extension of the period from 12 months to 18 months. If the court felt that to be the case, it could reduce the period from 18 months to 12 months, but no less.
The noble Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Peyton of Yeovil, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and others, referred to the situation where a marriage was dead at the end of the 12-month period. They went on to suggest that it is important to limit the anguish of the parties and the children. That is a fatalistic approach; I do not believe that all marriages are dead at the end of that period. The evidence is to the contrary.
In the amendment we are trying to save marriages and a little extra anguish may be necessary in order to achieve that objective. If the anguish will be too great in relation to the children, then if noble Lords are minded to vote for the amendment this afternoon, a small additional amendment could be introduced in another place to cover the point which I made at Report stage.
There are many reasons for your Lordships to vote for the amendment, but perhaps the most important is the message or signal that it gives. I have talked to many people--my friends, taxi drivers, bus drivers--and almost without exception they all had the impression that the Bill is intended to make divorce easier. I know that the noble and learned Lord will tell me that that is not the Bill's intention, but I am sorry to say that is the way it is being received. It is the way a message is received and not the way it is sent that matters. Noble Lords will remember the schoolboy story about the general who sent back a message: "Send reinforcements, we are going to advance". It arrived at headquarters: "Send three-and-four pence, we're going to a dance". The message received is what matters and if the message received is wrong, we must change the message that we are sending. By introducing the 18-month period on the face of the Bill, we would strengthen the Bill somewhat, though not much.
I was going to speak about the important difference between marriages with children and with no children, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said fluently everything that I had intended to say. They are right. Where there are children in a marriage it is essential to give the marriage a little extra chance of achieving reconciliation. As the right reverend Prelate said, some marriages might be saved. That is a tremendously worthwhile objective and I urge your Lordships to vote for the amendment.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, one of the most important and valuable things in the world is time, as noble Lords are aware. Everyone who has had the good fortune to be married for a short time, or even a considerable time, will know that occasionally we have the odd disagreement. But we manage to get over it. On his wedding anniversary my father used to say: "We've had only one argument during all our married life". Then he would add, "But every now and again we have an armistice". Probably his armistice was longer than the war. We all believe in the sanctity and value of marriage as the foundation of all proper civilisation. The most important thing we can give anyone to save their marriage is a little time to heal it.
Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, I have waited for an hour-and-a-half during the debate to make a contribution because, frankly, I came with an open mind on Amendment No. 3. To me it is not a matter of principle whether one waits 12 months or 18 months, or even whether one draws a distinction between children or no children, because every divorce, with or without children, is an infinite tragedy.
I waited because I wanted to listen. I have been richly rewarded because I am immensely moved by the contributions, and by the manner in which noble Lords have agonised over the subject. Having listened to both sides, I feel that those in favour of the amendment have persuaded me more than those who oppose it.
I wish to add one angle to the reasons which have been mentioned, and I was stirred by what I heard. My pastoral experience tells me, dealing with any number of unhappy marriages, threats of divorce, young couples
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that one cannot force people to love one another. I beg to differ. I think that necessity becomes the mother of invention; and a mother loves. Therefore, if people feel a necessity to live together, to make a success of their marriage for their own sake or their children's sake, if they try hard enough then many will find that, where a great effort is put in, the reward will come. It will be a mother of invention. That invention will lead to the capacity to generate love, to nurture love and eventually to have a perfectly happy marriage after a period of disturbance. Therefore, by increasing the time, particularly where children are concerned, to me the signal that will go out is, "Try harder".
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page