HC Deb 03 May 1963 vol 676 cc1570-83
Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 11, to leave out Clause 5.

This Clause was discussed in Committee and in the vote at the end of the discussion the Committee was divided equally, there being ten votes on each side. The Chairman, as was his duty, gave his casting vote in favour of the Clause standing part of the Bill.

I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. David James), who voted for the Clause on that occasion, have put their name to the Amendment to delete it at this stage. This leads me to think that, perhaps, we now have a majority for the deletion of the Clause.

The Clause gives a privilege to marriage guidance counsellors before the courts. I think that the House would wish to treat privilege with great caution, since it is a subject very much bigger than the main purpose of what is left of the Bill, and, clearly, it is not really fit to be dealt with in this way. Indeed, privilege is a very dangerous subject—it will, perhaps, be debated next Tuesday—and it should be considered for all classes of citizens at one time rather than be the subject of special provisions in regard to marriage guidance counsellors in this Bill. For those reasons, and for the reason that we should like the Bill to go through with as much as possible that is good and not raise any matter which is contentious and not acceptable to the House on this occasion, I commend the Amendment to the House.

Mr. Abse

Since I believe that this Clause is designed to assist reconciliations in marriage, I have by no means departed from the view which I have expressed previously. I owe it to the Marriage Guidance Council and to the Catholic Advisory Council, both of which are doing valuable work in bringing about reconciliations, to make it clear that the reason that at least some of us are not pursuing this matter is not because we are not convinced of the justice of the request for this privilege which they have made to us but because we realise, having had an intimation from the Solicitor-General, that it clearly offends Government policy. For that reason, and in order to assist the passage of the Bill, I am not opposing the Amendment.

The Solicitor-General

I should make my position clear with regard to this Clause and this principle, which, as has been said, was debated in Committee. I entered into the affray in Committee and it was the only occasion on which I voted. On that occasion, I voted against the Clause, for the reasons which have been indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). As I said on Second Reading, a communication by a spouse to the Marriage Guidance Council is the privilege of the spouse. Evidence on it can be given only if the spouse wishes it to be given. But this Clause would make any such evidence and any such conversations wholly inadmissible, however relevant they were and however much the spouses wanted them to be given in evidence. As I said on Second Reading, the Clause seemed to be misconceived and not one which this House should put into law.

There is a second and equally grave reason for leaving the Clause out, which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, and that is that it extends the doctrine of privilege in a particular matter to particular people, and that is something which this House is very chary of doing. Indeed, it is very jealous of extending that privilege, as every hon. Member is aware.

It was for those reasons that the Government opposed this part of the Bill, and, I stress, only this part. I thought that I should give that explanation in view of what has been said on this occasion.

Dr. Glyn

We all appreciate the work done by the Marriage Guidance Council, and the Clause might have facilitated its work, but I submit that it proposes too great an extension of privilege, which is not even given to doctors, for this House possibly to entertain it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Does the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) wish to move his Amendments to Clause 6, in page 3, line 17, to leave out subsection (1), and in page 4, line 1, to leave out Clause 7?

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

In view of the general desire to make progress with the Bill, I will not move the Amendments but will refer to them in the debate on Third Reading.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Abse

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The somewhat truncated Measure which is before us retains some Clauses which undoubtedly bring about valuable changes in the divorce law. I am sure that solicitors will be much relieved by the fact that there is an amendment of the law of collusion. The amendment which has been effected will undoubtedly result in solicitors being able to talk freely one with the other in a way that they have not felt able to do up to the present. This may mean that in some cases reconciliations will be effected. As a consequence of the amendment, there will be some diminution of the amounts which have to be paid under the Legal Aid Scheme, since it is generally agreed that it will result in fewer defended Causes.

Apart from the amendment of the law on collusion, there are Clauses which will mean that in cases of adultery, desertion or cruelty there will be no inhibition within the law to prevent reconciliation. The fact that these Clauses, popularly called the "kiss and make-up" Clauses, will, if the House now agrees, become part of the law of the land will mean that a real step has been taken by the legislature to concern itself, not only with the severance of marriage, but with the healing of marriage.

Apart from that, some of the other Clauses undoubtedly will provide protection for women against stratagems which can be adopted by a husband to give relief which properly should, and could, be afforded to them. I hope, therefore, bearing in mind that principles which have received the commendation of the Churches, among other people, are embodied within the Bill, it will commend itself to the House.

3.31 p.m.

Mr. Cole

I should like briefly to support the Third Reading of the amended Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on his work concerning the conciliation aspect and on the fact that he will, I trust, in due course have the pleasure of seeing the Bill upon the Statute Book.

The hon. Member has told us that, in the vernacular, some of the Clauses are called the "kiss and make-up" Clauses. Previously, the hon. Member used the rather more formal language that the Clauses would remove many of the inhibitions upon reconciliation which now exist. I do not mind whether we use the vernacular or formal language, but I am interested in anything which leads to reconciliation of what might otherwise be permanently separated—or divorced—parties.

I am, however, bound to say that the fruit of one's experience—I am not speaking of one's intimate, personal experience—is that no reconciliation can be effected by an Act of Parliament. This gives me the opportunity to pay tribute, as has already been done, to the many organisations of marriage counsellors, some of them under the sponsorship of the Home Office, and others from other organisations, who seek with every kind of altruism to bring parties together, not only for the sake of the children, who are of the greatest importance, but also for the sake of the parties themselves, to ensure that the marriage can restart. How often do we find that a reconciliation eventuates and that this third party action makes possible something which otherwise would never have happened. I pay tribute to all those who have worked to this end.

Their work being done, and when this and other Bills like it are on the Statute Book, the fact still remains that we have to leave the final decision to the good will of the parties concerned. The hon. Member for Pontypool has referred to the fact that 93 per cent. of marriages are happy, and I hope that from our various debates upon the Bill the message will go out from this House to those who contemplate separation, either legally or informally, that there is still hope and that although not all is well, much is well with marriage and at all times all branches of society, from Parliament downwards, are anxious to do what they can to effect reconciliation between opposite parties who might otherwise be separated.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool. The Bill, which touches the conscience of society, has at times had a difficult run and the hon. Member, like all of us, will be glad to see it become the law of the land.

3.35 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I was not on the Standing Committee dealing with this Bill but I came here today to oppose the Bill and to see that it did not get the Third Reading. 1 did this from my own convictions and also because I have had many representations from a very large number of my constituents. I am certain that their objections were all to Clause 1. Now that Clause 1 has been withdrawn I shall not oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

3.36 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

We have come a long way from the days of Shakespeare who said that Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on achieving more up-to-date ways of doing this.

I think that the Bill, although truncated, provides some very useful and very valuable additions to our laws. The principle of the matrimonial offence being the sole reason for a divorce remains, and I personally feel that that is wrong and that that is what is wrong with the law as a whole. I cannot see that one adulterous adventure should be the ground for divorce. I would prefer it to be persistent rather than single, and I cannot see that it is right that seven years of separation should not be a ground for divorce.

However, that is how the Bill stands, and it only remains to me to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Pontypool for his courtesy and hard work and industry throughout the passage of the Bill to the Statute Book and to wish him well.

Perhaps I may be allowed to end with a quotation from the Bishop of Woolwich. who wrote to The Times on 8th February and said: It would be deplorable if yet another sane attempt to reform our laws on sexual morality were talked out. That, I am afraid, is more or less what has happened, but let us be thankful for what we have left.

3.38 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn

I should just like to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and in particular for his having the good sense and judgment to allow his Bill to go through amended against his own very strong personal convictions for the good of the general improvement of the law. At the same time. I think the House owes a great debt of thanks to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General who throughout the passage of this Bill has been a source of very great advice and help to us all.

The Bill does a great deal for the preservation of marriages, and I do not think that anybody on either side of the House can deny that as it stands now it will have a very real effect in helping to preserve marriages merely by the alteration in the ability of both parties to seek advice on many matters, including finance. Many parties, I believe, before entering divorce will now be able to realise the full consequences of the actions they are about to take without ruining their chance or possibly later having their divorce ruined by collusion. I think that by doing this many young people who thought that divorce was the answer to their problems may well have a chance of considering the long-term disadvantages of that action, and also, of course, by their ability to have the period of reconciliation. I cannot conceive that this Bill as it stands will not be a great advance in the law of divorce.

I shall not at this stage elaborate on Clause 1. We attempted to improve the Clause, but quite rightly the House has rejected that Clause. I hope that the Bill will have its Third Reading before the end of this day.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Having listened to all the procedure on the Bill without having said a single word, I just want to say one single word now.

I think it would have been better if those who were opposed to the principle of the Bill had opposed it on Second Reading. It would have been fairer to the country, fairer to the House of Commons and, in particular, fairer to all those people who would have been relieved from their present plight if the Bill had gone through in the form in which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) presented it.

None the less, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has presented the Measure and the passionate eloquence with which he spoke today, particularly when this must have been for all these reasons a very bitter day for him.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) quoted Shakespeare. When I look at our present divorce laws and what has happened in the House of Commons today, I should like to quote a lesser poet, who wrote: Oh, that in England there might be A duty on hypocrisy, A tax on humbug, an excise On solemn plausibilities.

3.41 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

As one of the sponsors of the Bill and, I am afraid, as one who did not give adequate support because I had to go to America—that was known to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—I should like to congratulate the hon. Member upon the courage he has shown, first of all, in attempting to bring the Bill before the House. Even though he is not satisfied—certainly I am not—with the result, he must realise that he has started something in this country which I think will continue. In other words, he has put down a stepping stone, and I am certain that in future he will get everything that he has requested today. It may take time, but public opinion is changing.

As the hon. Member mentioned, the Status of Women Commission, on which I am a representative, is studying this matter from the legal point of view—not from the religious point of view. Unfortunately, its work has been delayed this session, but we shall have the full details before the next meeting of the Commission in Geneva. I hope that this will also help people in this country to see the various ways in which other countries have settled this difficult problem.

There is reference on page 26 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriages to the fact that New Zealand and Australia have Measures such as we have been contemplating or hoping to get today. There it is stated that marriages which are marriages in name only are cruel to the individual and against public interest. I think that perhaps one of the things that we have been forgetting when we have been talking today is that we are here dealing with marriages which are marriages in name only.

I am with the hon. Member for Pontypool and all hon. Members in the House in trying to promote happy marriages and to get people reconciled. But what we were really thinking of today were those people—a minority, it has been said—who are, unfortunately, the failures in this matter. It is in their interest, and also in the public interest, that we should consider the matter.

I would remind the Solicitor-General that in Australia and New Zealand the Governments have brought in excellent Measures, and I hope that as a result of this Private Member's Bill—it is a difficult way of dealing with the matter—the Government may in the future consider bringing forward a Bill of their own which will provide a great many more facilities in this matter. New Zealand and Australia are two Christian countries which have Measures which, I understand, have proved satisfactory to the individuals concerned and have not made divorce quicker or easier in that the numbers divorced have not increased since the Measures came into operation.

For this reason I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Pontypool has been successful with some of the provisions which he put forward, and I hope that in future more efforts will be made to obtain a more comprehensive Bill which will be of benefit to our people.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)

I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on his very eloquent speech in the course of which he announced the withdrawal of Clause 1. I should prefer to have gone down fighting on that Clause but nevertheless I understand that there is something of value to be saved in the Bill. I hope that in future the part which has been left out can be reintroduced. Now I merely want to express two things.

The first is my regret that the way in which we organise our business has been such that we are allowed only half a day or less to discuss a matter of immense importance. The second is that I want to place on record a protest not so much against those who have come to oppose the Bill but against the many who stayed away, and who thought it safer to stay away. so that it was impossible to force a closure during this debate.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)

I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will be generous enough to accept from me an expression of my admiration of his conduct of the Bill. It would be generous of him to do so, because I have been an implacable opponent of that part of the Bill about which he feels so deeply—Clause 1. I know that other hon. Members on both sides of the House who opposed him on this would like to be associated with me in paying tribute to his courtesy, his immense hard work, his utter sincerity and his recognition that we were also sincere.

If I may add a word as a more junior Parliamentarian to a more senior one, I should like to express my personal admiration for his dignity and courage today in accepting with, as he says, a heavy heart the truncation of the Bill in order that some good can come from the Measure, although it is not what he believes to be the best part of what he had in mind.

The hon. Gentleman knows that when he comes back to move a similar proposal as in Clause 1 he will find me and many other hon. Members still implacably opposed to what he is trying to do, but I hope that he will accept my personal tribute to his conduct throughout the Bill and particularly today.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) but I wish to express my disappointment that we are not discussing a Bill with more in it. I am rather annoyed with some of my hon. Friends whose collaboration with Members opposite has put us into this position. At the same time, they were justified under our procedure in using such tactics and I would not condemn them for it because I might want to use the same tactics myself later. Although I am annoyed with them, they were entitled to do what they did if they felt so strongly on the matter.

I hope that at some time in the not-far-distant future some Government will allow the House to express an opinion without any Whips when we have a full attendance.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) can be sure there are no Whips on today. Far from it. I join in the congratulations offered to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on the manner in which he has conducted the Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton), I will be equally opposed to him if he seeks to bring this proposal forward again. But we have to differ on these things.

On Third Reading one is not in order in discussing what is not in the Bill.

Mr. M. Foot

Hear, hear.

Mr. Bell

The intervention of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) was solely directed to what was not in the Bill, unless he used the words "humbug" and "hypocrisy" about what is now in the Bill.

Mr. M. Foot

I was referring specifically to the hon. Member.

Mr. Bell

In that case the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was doubly out of order, because I am not in the Bill and the words as applied to me would hardly be in order. It would be very regrettable if people like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale should get into the habit of describing the views of people with whom they disagree as "humbug and hypocrisy". Those words can spring rather too easily from the lips. Those who hold the views on marriage and divorce which I and others hold, hold them as sincerely as hon. Members like the hon. Member for Pontypool. We have held them as long and believe them just as rational and conducive to the welfare of the Commonwealth as those who hold the opposite views.

Clause 1 has gone and what is left in the Bill I can accept as beneficial. I think that Clauses 2 and 3 will be of great value. The law of condonation has been in a foolish state for a long time. Clause 2 is entirely beneficial and Clause 3, also, is a most valuable contribution to reconciliation work. I want to say only one word about that and it is in relation to the marriage guidance councillors. They do a very good job indeed. The fact that we have struck out Clause 5 this afternoon in no way implies that hon. Members do not appreciate the work done by marriage guidance councillors.

If any message is implicit in the Bill as it now stands it is that people should have another try to make up their differences and to live together. If they can do that without the help and intervention of any third person that is the best of all, because something is always lost when anyone comes into help, whether it is a skilled marriage counsellor or anyone else. An opportunity has been lost if the help of third parties has played its part. The best achievement of all is that people should master their own difficulties with their own unaided resources by sheer strength of character. If there is anything that this House can do to help by encouragement of that standard of values it is by showing that true happiness does not consist in running away from one's responsibilities and seeking escape from them by a ruse like divorce, but in meeting difficulties and overcoming them. A married couple who meet difficulty in that way will not find that divorce is the best way out of problems which can beset a marriage.

I did not move two Amendments which stood in my name on the Notice Paper because I did not want to hold up the proceedings. I said that I would refer to them, very shortly indeed, on Third Reading. I am not altogether happy about Clause 6(1) nor about Clause 7. I do not know whether they were part of the original intention of the hon. Member for Pontypool or if they were added, but these are Clauses which give additional powers to the courts in the matter of disposition of property in matrimonial proceedings. I am not happy about them because they are very wide. [Interruption] I think we hear enough of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) in this House. Someone else might have an opportunity of addressing the House.

The powers exercised by the courts in relation to property are already wide. In my view they amount almost to an abuse of the liberty of the individual in the interest of control by the State. There is a natural desire by a court or anyone else who has power to extend the boundaries of power and to introduce and order as wide a range of matters as it can, but to extend the power of the court to intervene by injunction in the financial and property arrangements of a spouse pending matrimonial proceedings increases that. The result might be that the maintenance provision would be prejudiced. It is going a very long way in interfering with the ordinary rights of the individual in order that matters may be regulated by the courts of the country. Had we had more time I would have pressed those Amendments and would have hoped that they would have been accepted; as it is, I commend what is left in the Bill.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

As a sponsor of the Bill, I must express my regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has withdrawn Clause 1. There is strong resentment among people in the country at the attitude which the Churches have taken in this matter. It is right that hon. Members should remember that only 10 per cent. of our fellow countrymen normally attend Church on Sundays, and I do not think that a particular section of the population has the right to try to force its views regarding marriage and divorce on the majority. If that kind of attitude persists the Churches will be responsible for producing a wave of anti-clerical feeling in this country.

There has never been such a thing up to now, because the Churches have not taken a contrary attitude to the popular view on reforms which were going forward. But if they persist in their opposition to changes of this kind, there will be a strong wave of anti-clericalism in the country. The Churches will deserve it and will suffer from it. I hope that such a wave will not develop and that in the not too distant future changes of the kind suggested in Clause 1 will become law. I regret that it has not been possible to make those changes in this Bill, and I hope the time will soon come when they will be made.

3.56 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

My rôle in these proceedings has been similar to that of Cassandra with a touch of Polonius at certain times. I do not propose to engage in controversy at this late stage of the proceedings. This House is always generous in its admiration, as sometimes it is in its cruelty, and today tributes have rightly been paid to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I served on the Standing Committee which discussed this Bill and took part in the Second Reading debate. Unlike that of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), my voice has rarely been silent. I should like to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Pontypool on the skill with which he put forward arguments and marshalled ail the matters referred to in the Bill.

I think it right that a tribute should be paid to the hon. Gentleman on this occasion. The Bill amends the law on condonation and deals with relief notwithstanding temporary cohabitation with a view to reconciliation and amends the law of collusion. There is a Clause dealing with maintenance and alimony and attempts to defeat claims for financial relief. All these are substantial matters which I am sure will prove to the advantage of many people. It represents a great advance and improvement in many spheres of the domestic law of this country. Any hon. Member who has piloted such a Measure through the House must be gratified by that fact. I add my congratulations to those extended to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.