HC Deb 17 December 1968 vol 775 cc1057-135

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question —[6th December, 1968]—

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

10.0 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)

When the debate was adjourned 10 days ago, I was speaking and in my last sentence I was saying: … I think it essential that the Government should take their responsibilities related to—"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 2056.] At that point, and very properly because it was Four o'clock, you called me to order, Mr. Speaker. I know that there has been wide speculation as to what the Government's responsibilities were related to and I now propose to reveal to the House exactly what that was.

I was about to urge the Government to take seriously their responsibilities towards this Bill. Since then, the Government have taken the very serious step of giving time to the Bill. Although some of my hon. Friends, and no doubt other hon. Members, will not agree with me, I do not take the view that Governments should never give time for Private Members' Bills. Our system of legislating on this sort of moral and social issue leaves a great deal to be desired and I should like a different system. But, as long as we keep the present chancy system, with its assinine reliance on a ballot—and I am not in any way attempting to be rude to the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones)—the fact that whether we legislate on issues of this importance depends on the whim of a ballot is perfectly extraordinary. As long as we keep this present chancy system, there will be occasions when, quite properly, the Government may take over a Bill, which I suggest would be the right course on this occasion, and there may be other times when they should give time to a Private Member's Bill.

But they ought to give proper Government time, not put on the Bill at the end of a day whether it is debated overnight, as was the case in the last Session but one with two extremely important Bills—and who can honestly say that those Measures are as good as they ought to have been and would have been if they had been properly discussed at the proper time?—or, still more in these idiotic and truncated morning sittings when many hon. Members for obvious reasons cannot be here. If the Government give time to a Private Member's Bill, they should give their own time and not create bogus time at the end of a day's sitting.

Secondly—and this is a point which I want to stress most strongly—once the Government give time for a Private Member's Bill, they accept moral responsibility for it. I am not suggesting that every detail of the legislation becomes a matter of Government responsibility and a proper subject for a three-line whip and still less that it becomes a matter of party policy. What I am saying is that by this action the Government take responsibility for the broad principles of the Bill. They take responsibility for the effectiveness of its drafting and for its workability. By their action yesterday, the Government are now responsible for the workability of the legal machinery now proposed.

I am not a lawyer and I do not propose to say anything about this, but I know that many lawyers are extremely concerned about the actual procedure to be prescribed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General is now responsible for seeing that the machinery of the Bill is workable.

Above all—and this is the human side of it—the Government are now responsible for the well being of those many thousands of innocent wives who, if the obnoxious Clause 2 (1) (e) were left in the Bill, would find their rights reduced because shared with another woman or other women.

I find my sentence which you interrupted 10 days ago, Mr. Speaker, even more relevant now than then, and I hope that the Solicitor-General will seriously address himself to this aspect.

I freely admit that I approach the Bill with a strong prejudice against divorce.

It seems to me from observation that all too often people get divorced for quite inadequate reasons and that often after such a divorce the partners pair up again, or that one of the partners, leaving the other in the cold, pairs up with an extraordinarily similar person, and to all outward appearance the second marriage to the rest of the world is the same as the first and nothing has been solved. Easy and acceptable divorce encourages people to divorce as an apparently easy option whereas in reality nothing is solved by a divorce of that character. I further believe that divorce nearly always puts the supposed happiness of the parents before the actual happiness of the children. I believe, finally, that divorce is contagious and that the contagion is often handed on to later generations.

Of course, I accept that except for Clause 2 (1) (e) the Bill does not seek directly to increase the number of divorces. I appreciate that that is not the object. But it is in fact a Bill to make divorce easier. I believe that it will therefore make more divorces and I am therefore opposed to it.

It is a double Bill, with two aspects, and although I do not accuse its supporters today, the two have been intentionally confused by some people. First, the Bill is to alter what might be called the law and procedure of divorce. The second, quite separately, is to make easier grounds for divorce. In the latter category it introduces something utterly new, namely, a divorce against their wishes and without their agreement of wholly innocent people who wish to maintain their marriages while their partners do not.

This latter proposition has often been put to the House. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) had a Bill on this matter in the 1959–64 Parliament. When this issue has been put to the House straight, the House has always rejected it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham. West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) put the reasons very forcefully in the earlier part of the debate. I hope that whatever else happens, we shall not accept what I regard as this monstrous proposition as part of a package deal under the general heading of reform. I hope that we shall look carefully at this particular issue, this one radical change in the law proposed here. The House has considered this on its merits before and has always rejected it. I believe that it would be right to reject it once more.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect in his recollection. The House accepted the principle in the Bill when it gave a Second Reading to the 1963 Bill.

Mr. Worsley

If the hon. Gentleman remembers even more carefully, this was a fairly short debate, and the Bill went through without a great deal of discussion. Before it got further, the hon. Gentleman withdrew this particular aspect of the Bill, because he knew what the opposition was.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Does my hon. Friend not recall the earlier attempt this year to get a Bill through which received a Second Reading? Is that not another example of the principle being accepted by the House?

Mr. Worsley

The point that I was trying to make is that last year the whole Bill received a Second Reading. The Bill took, as many of our procedures in this House do, a great many people outside by surprise. Many were concerned, particularly womens' organisations who had not tumbled to the significance of this part of the Bill. When they became aware of that, there was a great howl of protest from womens' organisations across the country.

I turn to the procedure in the courts. I am extremely sceptical about the practical effect of what is proposed. It is sometimes said that this proposal for making the breakdown of marriage the sole ground of divorce derives from an Anglican parentage. There is a superficial similarity, and a similarity in the words used, with the report, "Putting Asunder", issued under the auspices of the Church of England. But the differences between this Bill and that report are critical.

Anyone who has read the report knows it to be a brilliant, stimulating and, more unusually, a well-written report. It will also be realised that the actual practical provisions made in it were wholly impractical. It envisaged a kind of Utopian investigation, what the Law Commission called an inquest into every broken marriage That was the central idea of the report, but the law cannot operate in this way and I accept that. This concept of an inquest into each marriage plays no part in the Bill. The Bill uses the words "breakdown of marriage" from the report, but takes away the procedure, namely the inquest, that gave that term meaning.

It is Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. That is why we return to the matrimonial offence. Under the present law, divorce is granted because of a matrimonial offence. Under the Bill it would be granted because of breakdown of marriage, but how would that be assessed? The commission of a matrimonial offence would be shown. I do not believe that this reform is of very great significance. At root it is playing with words. It may be worth doing—I am not saying that it is not—but I do not think that it will be very significant.

The real changes are the introduction of two new major grounds for divorce, the so-called divorce by consent under Clause 2 (1) (d) and divorce without consent under Clause 2 (1) (e). There is a considerable softening of desertion, from three to two years. These are the real issues upon which I suggest the House should concentrate its attention. In my opinion, they add up to a Bill for easier divorce, and therefore I oppose it.

10.15 a.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I will not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) in his criticism of the Government for having given time to deal with this Bill. As has been pointed out, the principle was accepted in 1962 and 1968, by a large majority. It was merely because the Session ended before all the stages of the Bill could be completed that this Bill did not become law. The Government are well justified in providing time and I am glad that they have done so.

The hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) condemned this Bill and said that he would fight it at every stage. He prefaced his remarks by saying that he had spent his life practising exclusively at the divorce Bar since the war, and therefore this was a topic about which he knew a little. He drew upon his experience to condemn the Bill. May I, with equal modesty, claim to have some knowledge of divorce work. I have practised at the Bar for over 46 years, and during that period, before and after the war, I have been engaged in many divorce cases.

My view, from my experience, is entirely the opposite of that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I regard this Bill as a long overdue Measure which will not undermine the sanctity of marriage, but, on the contrary, will help to make it more of a reality and will bring happiness and relief to thousands of couples who are living in so-called sin, as well as the blessings, such as they are, of legitimacy, to many children. I had the honour of supporting the Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) in 1951, which was withdrawn by her on the promise of a Royal Commission. I was also able to participate in the debate on Second Reading and the subsequent stages of the Bill brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).

My regret is that their main efforts did not succeed. I remember in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, advancing the argument that it was absurd to base the granting of a divorce on the commission of a matrimonial offence, that one instance of adultery would provide grounds for divorce; yet the clear un-happiness of the spouses, their condemnation to a life of incompatibility and misery would not permit their separation unless they could prove that it was due to guilt on the part of either of them, so as to establish the matrimonial offence of cruelty. I pleaded then that there should be substituted for the matrimonial offence the obvious thing that mattered, that the marriage had irretrievably broken down.

We must recognise the truth of the observations, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce that: … the law of divorce as it at present exists is indeed weighted in favour of the least scrupulous, the least honourable and the least sensitive; and that nobody who is ready to provide a ground of divorce, who is careful to avoid any suggestion of connivance or collusion and who has a co-operative spouse, has any difficulty in securing the dissolution of the marriage. In "Putting Asunder" it is said that: … the law as it stands is unsatisfactory. As a piece of social mechanism the present system has not only cut loose from its moral and judicial foundations, it is quite simply inept. This is the system, with all its obvious hypocrisy, that the hon. and learned Member would uphold. The attempt to put it on an honest basis as described is disgraceful.

What does the Bill seek to do? In Clause 1 it puts at the forefront, clearly and simply, that the sole ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. If it has irretrievably broken down, why should it be allowed to continue? Should it be allowed to continue for the sake of either of the parties? That would surely mean a life of unhappiness for both, chained together and chafing at their links.

Should it be allowed to continue for the sake of the children? What could be worse in the upbringing of children than obvious discontent and strife between parents who cannot get on—their glaring distaste and dislike for each other, the very negation of family life? Should it be allowed to continue on the ground of the sanctity of marriage tie? Surely that would mean sacrificing the happiness of people to a false belief, for how can there be sanctity when any belief in it has departed?

It has been argued by some that the ground should be the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage simpliciter. In theory, I support that, but obviously its determination would impose too great and too vague a task on our judges. The promoter of the Bill has wisely followed the provisions in the previous Bill in setting out guidelines which will assist the judge in coming to a decision. The provisions in Section 2 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1965, will still remain. Thus, unless there are special grounds of exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity and the court permits it, no one may petition for a divorce unless the marriage has endured for three years.

That will, in effect, mean that, although in the Bill the desertion period is reduced to two years, an unopposed divorce may be granted when the parties have lived apart for two years, and Clause 2 (1) (e) permits a dissolution when they have lived apart for a continuous period of five years; in most cases, the duration of the marriage may well be considerably longer than those periods.

What is the objection to divorce by consent when the parties have lived apart for at least two years? As the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West observed, when spouses part on a consensual basis one of them will come to the divorce court—and here I use the hon. and learned Gentleman's words—and try to "dress up" the separation as if it were desertion by the other party. He had perforce to agree that he would be in favour of an alteration in our law which permitted divorce by consent after a time. As long ago as 1912, the King's Proctor, in giving evidence before the Royal Commission, said that 75 per cent. of divorces were obtained by consent. The provision in the Bill will help to get rid of the hypocrisy and perjury which now undoubtedly attend divorce petitions and will assist in putting them on a true basis.

The most cogent evidence that a marriage has irretrievably broken down is that the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years. It is said against this that it is wrong to give relief to a guilty person against an innocent spouse. In how many cases can it be said that one party is wholly guilty and the other wholly innocent? What is the sense of keeping a party tied to something which does not exist in reality with the other party being condemned to live in sin, often with children who are illegitimate?

It is said that the unwilling spouse will suffer financially. I agree with my hon. Friends that considerable change should be made in our National Insurance regulations, but I do not think that this reform must await such a change. Hon. Members must remember the position of wives divorced by husbands as it is today. The Bill provides as ample safeguards as can be provided. For example, there are the provisions in Clause 6 for the financial protection of the respondent. In my view, those provisions might well provide a far better financial safeguard than exists today. There are excellent provisions in Clause 3 designed to encourage reconciliation, and there is the overriding consideration in Clause 2 (3) that if the evidence shows that the marriage has not irretrievably broken down a decree will not be granted.

To those who say that if the Bill is passed the institution of marriage will be in danger I point out the similar provisions in Australia and New Zealand which have been part of the law in those countries for many years. No one can suggest that in Australia and New Zealand there is in marriage other than a holy alliance entered into for life and, in the majority of cases, remaining so. When the Bill becomes law it will still be the same in this country.

We are endebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) for the good use to which he has put his luck in the ballot. I congratulate him, and I hope that the Bill will be upon the Statute Book in the near future.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

Before my hon. and learned Friend sits down, may I ask him a question relating to his observations near the end of his speech? The Bill arouses sympathy and one wants to do the right thing in deciding whether to support it. My hon. and learned Friend referred to financial provision. This is something which causes me anxiety. Would he say that Clause 6 protects a spouse who has had a divorce when it comes to her share of her husband's retirement pension? For example, I think of the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Wilkins

Unless I explain the point, Mr. Speaker, I doubt whether my hon. and learned Friend will understand exactly what I am getting at. Take a case such as that about which we read in the newspapers the other day. A man goes off, after 40 years of married life, with a young woman. He had accumulated pension rights to which his wife would have been entitled, or as a widow if anything had happened to him. Do those rights go to the young woman, or does she get any share of them?

Mr. Weitzman

I do not wish to take up too much time in dealing with this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The judge has power under the Bill to make arrangements for the spouse which are as satisfactory as possible from the financial point of view. Moreover, I have said that it will be possible under the Bill to make a much more satisfactory arrangement than can be made at present.

10.28 a.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I speak with a great sense of responsibility and with some sadness. I have been in favour of divorce reform for many years. I always hoped that we would see a Bill, which was agreed and which had the Government's full support, dealing with all these problems, one very good example of which has just been mentioned and which would have involved a good deal of give and take. I am sorry to say that I have come to the conclusion that the steamroller approach will be adopted in this instance. There will be no serious consideration of major Amendments.

I said some weeks ago that I hoped that we could approach this matter on the basis of widespread agreement on the principle of some degree of divorce by consent, combined with the conception of irretrievable breakdown. I hoped that on that basis we could say that the Bill could have a Second Reading and go to Committee where we would be assured that the totally different matter of divorce against consent might be considered with a completely open and impartial mind, not only on the moral side, but on the question of financial protection, which the hon. and learned Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) appropriately raised in his intervention. I think it is now clear that if the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will be steamrollered through Committee. I hope that the Committee will have an opportunity of preventing that, but it is a very difficult matter, as we found last year.

I should like to speak as briefly as I may because I know that a great many other hon. Members wish to speak. It is most unfortunate that again, in the way the Government have treated the Bill, we have too limited time available today. I shall have to try to compress my remarks. It is a difficult and complicated subject but I will do my best in that way.

The point of view which I represent today is that of many women, and I would like to explain what it is. We regard as a legitimate objective in the Bill the recognition of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) described as some degree of divorce by consent, because we consider that that is allowable and unfortunately inevitable in these days. As my hon. and learned Friend told the House when speaking from his unrivalled experience, it is commonplace today for two spouses who both want a divorce to adopt expedients and pretences which are not only inherently deceitful but which also seriously damage the reputation of British justice. We have no doubt about it.

There are considerable differences of opinion about the application of the principle of divorce by consent, such as whether the period should be two or three years and the effect to be given to the existence of small children. Those, however, are Committee points. It is quite wrong to regard the conflict as being a conflict about divorce by consent. That position has not been properly recognised in the discussions in the Press.

The point that concerns us—and by "us" I mean those whose view I believe that I represent—is a quite different one. In the Bill as it stands, one has not only divorce by consent, but the very opposite—many people think that the word "principle" is not appropriate but let us assume that it is applicable—not by consent, but against the will of one of the spouses, however innocent. at the request and for the benefit of the other spouse, however guilty.

My concern, therefore, is with ground (e) rather than with ground (d). It is that "unilateral" or compulsory ground to which many women object and which is causing a large number of women grave tears. That being the situation, it should be agreed in the House of Commons that their objections to it should be fully and impartially considered. I say that in all seriousness because I feel, as I have felt on several occasions in recent years, that in this House today—and in the Press—the women's point of view, particularly on moral and human issues, is sometimes given far too little attention.

I heard a striking speech the other day by a young woman on the question of women's rights in which she referred particularly to the Bill. She said, with great applause from her large audience, that at the rate at which we are going, women will soon feel impelled to start another movement which would make the suffragettes of Edwardian days look like gentle Iambs.

Following that, I was interested and not altogether surprised to read a leading article in the Sunday Times last Sunday in which presumably the editor, or someone speaking on his behalf, wrote off the women's point of view on the Bill as "feminist hostility". One would have thought that that was a rather square Edwardian view and that the Sunday Times was a little more up-to-date. I look forward to reading—I am sure that they will be printed—some letters from women expressing their point of view in that connection. It is utterly wrong that we should have that kind of attitude. We must try to understand what these women are concerned about and see whether we can honestly say that they are not right.

Why do they object to this ground of compulsory divorce? First and foremost, strange as it may appear to some of those who are enthusiastic supporters of the Bill, it offends against three of the fundamental maxims of British justice which, I hope, we want to maintain. The first is that no one may take advantage of his own wrong; the second is that hard cases make bad law; and the third is that there must not be one law for the rich and another for the poor.

As regards the first of those maxims, I merely remind the House of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West said. It will be a bad day for Britain when our law not only permits, but actually encourages, a man to force his wife into a divorce for the sole purpose of allowing him to marry another woman, and to do so every five years without making proper provision for the wives and children.

Sir Alan Herbert has been referred to on several occasions, and very rightly, in support of the idea of divorce by consent, but in the article which he wrote at the beginning of this controversy he expressed himself in practically the same words as my hon. and learned Friend. Sir Alan Herbert cannot be quoted as a supporter of the idea of compulsory divorce.

Let us face it squarely that that is what the sponsors of the Bill are asking Parliament to do. It is surely the acme of permissiveness. That may be what we want today, but I do not believe that it is what the country wants. That issue should be considered seriously and carefully.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)


Sir L. Heald

I am sorry, I have very little time to give way.

The only justification which is put forward—and this may well be what will be asked—I said is that of what is called the blackmail or dog-in-the-manger type of case where one spouse maliciously refuses to consent. There, of course, the second maxim comes in: that hard cases make bad law. The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), who, I am sorry to see, is absent, would probably say that she does not like legal maxims, so for her benefit I will give an alternative from a source which, I think, even she would regard as respectable: Thou shalt not do evil that good may come. If the sponsors were willing to consider it—but they have shown clearly that they are not—it might be possible, to some extent, to meet that point by a provision such as we have in the landlord and tenant world, where it is provided that consent to an assignment by a tenant "shall not be unreasonably withheld". That possibility has been raised, and it has been shot down rather contemptuously by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), and others. They will not have their sacred principle invaded. That being so, I shall not have the opportunity of a friendly discussion on it, and in those circumstances I can only oppose the Bill which will contain something which I regard as thoroughly unjust.

Then there is the third maxim, which speaks for itself. Clause 6 (2) (b) says that the financial provision has to be fair and reasonable, or the best that can be made in the circumstances". It is astonishing that Parliament is being asked to enact those words, when we know the position in which these people will find themselves. The word "or" means an alternative. Although it is not fair and reasonable, it is all there is.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether, if he reads Clause 6 in conjunction with Clause 4, he does not agree that it could be argued that together they will make divorce much more difficult than it is, and not easier?

Sir L. Heald

I think that the hon. Gentleman is approaching the Bill in the way in which I should like to see it approached. I should like there to be a discussion to see whether we can amend the wording and improve it. But let us be quite clear about this. Whenever anything of that kind is said, one sees heads being shaken in disagreement. There will be no question of discussing Amendments, and that is why the House has to face this matter today.

One other vitally important matter is this question of financial protection. This is vital in the view of many women who look on their prospects with grave fears. I have had many letters from people who say that they know what will happen to them if the Bill is passed. I shall not occupy the House with details, but at my request I have been provided, by an expert on this subject who deals with this matter for one of the largest women's organisations in the country, with a list of the subjects which will have to be taken into consideration, and people advised about, and about which we want advice from the Government, but shall not get.

What will happen about widows' pensions? And we have heard about such matters as settlements. What will happen about compensation for injuries, and things of that kind? What will happen about Service pensions, public servants and pensioners in local authorities and the Civil Service? What will happen about National Health Insurance, and so on? Some progress has been made about the matrimonial home, but the matter is still to some extent in the melting pot. Above all, what will be the position with regard to housing and social security?

We asked questions about those matters in Committee on the last Bill. The Solicitor-General, with his usual courtesy, helped us through some of the legal morass, but when we asked what the Government's view was about social security, the hon. and learned Gentleman frankly admitted that he could not help us In view of what has been said, I think it is right and proper that I should remind the House of what the Solicitor General said in Committee: We have … the safeguards spelled out in the Bill in Clause 5 and the provisions of Clause 7, but it is true, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman perfectly fairly reminded the Committee, that the provision in Clause 7 is in the terms 'that the financial provision made by the petitioner for the respondent is reasonable and fair or the best that can be made in the circumstances'. The best, of course, may be very little indeed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 22nd May, 1968; c. 415–6.] The Solicitor-General also dealt with the question of a spouse who was divorced after five years' separation. I had said: These are grave matters which we shall be debating. If this were a Government Bill we should require to know from a Minister what exactly the Government were intending to bring in in the way of fresh legislation. Is new machinery to be provided here?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 15th May, 1968, c. 368.] To that the Solicitor-General replied: The Government will obviously want to study the Bill's provisions in order to consider their bearing upon social security if the Bill becomes law. I cannot go further than that in response to the question put to me by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey, but that is the position as I see it and as I offer it to the Committee. Earlier on the Solicitor-General had said … if I may speak colloquially, this is one of those cart before the horse issues … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 22nd May, 1968; c. 416.] I thought that there was no doubt about it. The trouble was that there was no horse in the cart, but a lot of people will be in the cart if the Bill goes through.

Today we are in a similar position. There is no Minister present who can speak on that subject. I have been a Law Officer, and not only was I never asked, but I never would have agreed, to speak on such a matter. It is the business of the appropriate Minister to be here. The Bill will now go to Committee. Will the appropriate Ministers attend our discussions there? If they do, will not they say, "But the principle of the Bill has been accepted; therefore, we cannot delete this provision now"?

I said that the Bill could well be said to deserve a Second Reading. It could, if we could have some assurance that the steamroller will not be applied, and it will be said, "You did not vote against it on Second Reading". We have heard that argument before. Unless a different attitude is adopted in replying to the debate—and we know who is going to reply—and unless we get real satisfaction about what the Government intend to do, I do not see any alternative but to vote against the Bill.

10.48 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

It might be helpful if at this stage I state the Government's attitude to the Bill. I intervene rather earlier than it had been my intention to do because of the observations made by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). The Government's attitude to the Bill is the same as it was to a similar Bill introduced in the last Session by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson)—that is to say, an attitude of neutrality.

It is right and natural that that should be so. We are considering a matter of the greatest importance, but it is not a party issue. For anyone to express the view that the matter of divorce reform raises party issues is for that person to reveal a total failure to understand the character of the controversy. It is not a party matter at all and that has been made clear in the whole history of the consideration of the last Bill, in speeches and Divisions upon the Bill, and in all the controversy that has taken place.

Having said that. I come to the question of the attitude of the Government towards timing. I appreciate that this is a factor which many hon. Members have in mind and I will deal with the issue in the context of what I have said about this not being a party matter. In my submission, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), with great mistake—I say this with due respect to him—expressed the view that the Government's attitude to time in the consideration of the Measure meant that the Government ceased to be neutral and took responsibility for the content of the Bill. I do not for a moment accept that. Although it may be an arguable point, I wish to make it clear that I do not accept it.

It is perfectly proper and reasonable for the Government to take the position that this issue is a matter of great social importance to the country to which it is desirable, especially having regard to the amount of consideration that it has received in recent years, that the House should come to a conclusion.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

If that is the case, why have not the Government had the courage to introduce the Bill themselves?

The Solicitor-General

The question of courage does not arise here. This is a matter of great importance in terms of social policy and social conduct in this country. It is a non-party matter and, in that context, the Government are facilitating the opportunity which the House has to arrive at a conclusion. I submit that that is a perfectly proper attitude for the Government to take.

Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)

The hon. and learned Gentleman must face up to the fact that there are many Private Members' Bills before the House and many important early day Motions on the Notice Paper. Every Thursday we ask the Leader of the House to provide time to debate these matters, though not necessarily in the coming week. The Government are finding time for this Measure and are thereby giving it priority over everything else. Thus it becomes a Government Bill, except that the Government will not put their name to it.

The Solicitor-General

It does not become a Government Bill—[Interruption.] I heard one of my hon. Friends say that this was a major issue. I agree. One must consider the relative matters that arise in Measures before the House; and obviously this is a Bill which raises questions which it is desirable, in the public interest, should be answered.

There can be no question of adopting a steamroller approach to this matter. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) used that expression and somewhat surprised me by doing so. There is no suggestion of which I know of a steamroller approach being adopted. That was not the characteristic of the Committee stage which we had in the last Session. I have no reason to think it is likely to be the characteristic or the attitude of the Committee stage in the consideration of the present Bill.

What is wanted is a firm and clear decision by the House on a matter which has long occupied its attention, has long received the consideration of hon. Members and which, in the general interest, it is thought should be decided upon. That is the attitude we take. I feel satisfied that it is a perfectly fair and reasonable one and, once again, I assure the House that there is no question of a steamroller approach being adopted.

Our consideration of this whole subject in the last Session took place, I think it will be agreed, in the context of general agreement that the existing state of the divorce law has certain unsatisfactory features and that reform of some of them is called for. That view was widely held in the last Session and it applies today. My impression is that, on the whole—looking back on the proceedings in the last Session—hon. Members moved, in different degrees of course, in the direction of a common attitude towards large parts of the problems which are involved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to see that being acknowledged by hon. Gentlemen opposite who served on the Standing Committee. That was an admirable feature of our proceedings in Committee last Session, at which I was in attendance the whole time.

Although no party issue arises, the Government feel that where there are signs of widespread agreement that reform is called for and where the social importance of the issues which we are discussing are so great, it is right that time should be made available for the House to reach a decision on the Bill. After all, on any showing plenty of study and thought have been given to this matter over a long period of time. In its later stages, that study and talk have been founded mainly on the Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee and on the work of the Law Commission. One hopes, therefore, that it will prove possible for a decision on the principle of the Bill to be reached this morning.

This Bill, like its predecessor, bears the imprint of the recommendations of both the Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee and the Law Commission's Report. I have used the phrase "guidelines" to describe how the earlier matrimonial offences play their part in the new issue of whether a marriage has irretrievably broken down. Hon. Members who have been considering this matter may be interested to know—I do not hesitate to tell the House this—that for a long time I viewed with great hesitation and doubt the desirability of abandoning the central concept of the matrimonial offence. However, I have now come to the conclusion that the introduction of the concept of irretrievable breakdown is a welcome development in our treatment of this problem.

In theory, it can be argued that introducing the additional aspect of irretrievable breakdown as something required over and above the old matrimonial offences makes divorce in some respects more and not less difficult to achieve. On any showing, however, it makes it a more overt and honest, and a less secretive, process.

It may be helpful if I indicated the main features of my hon. Friend's Bill which distinguished it from the Bill which was introduced last Session, and I will mention in this connection some matters of particular importance. The earlier Bill gave a discretion to the court to dismiss a petition in a case where a petitioner attempted to deceive the court. The Standing Committee voted that that Clause should not stand part of the Bill, and it is a matter of record that, in doing so, it acted against the advice which I had offered to it. The Division on that issue, as on nearly every other issue with which the Standing Committee was concerned, showed that party differences were not the decisive factor. Hon. Members of both parties voted on each side in that Division and, I think that it will be found, in nearly every other Division in that Committee.

That view taken by the Committee has been adopted by my hon. Friend, and the Clause in the earlier Bill which gave a discretion to the court to dismiss a petition in the case of deception does not appear in his Bill. In both Bills provision has been made that, where proof of irretrievable breakdown based on the fact that the parties have lived apart for two years and the respondent does not object to a decree being granted, the court has power to rescind a decree where a petitioner has misled the respondent. In the former Bill, the misleading referred to the financial position in which the respondent would be placed. The present Bill goes wider, and gives power to rescind a decree where the petitioner misleads the respondent about any matter which the respondent took into account in deciding not to object to the grant of a decree.

The hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) referred to the possible consequences of the Bill on legal aid expenditure. The position is that the Legal Aid Advisory Committee has indicated that the additional cost may be in the order of £400,000 in a full year. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is at present considering the report of that Committee and will be giving careful attention to these matters. I am, therefore, not in a position at this stage to comment.

Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)

Can the Solicitor-General tell the House whether the Government approve of the expenditure of £400,000 a year if the Bill is enacted?

The Solicitor-General

I shall not add to what I have said; that my noble Friend is considering the report of the committee to which I have referred; that he will be giving careful attention to the matter, and that I am not in a position to add to that. The House would not expect, I think, that I should.

One general point should be made about legal aid. If Parliament decides that the law of divorce is in need of reform, I suggest that it is hardly fair that the reform should be resisted and people denied their rights in the courts on the sole ground that it would put additional expenditure on the Legal Aid Fund. When I say that, I am not for one moment detracting from the importance of the point about the cost to legal aid. I only say that in a matter of this importance it has to be considered in proper perspective.

Mr. Worsley

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman indicate whether the whole £ 400,000 extra will result from additional divorce under Clause 2 (1) (e) or whether the Advisory Committee expects that additional divorce will result from other parts of the Bill?

The Solicitor-General

My understanding is that the Legal Aid Advisory Committee has made this estimate of the additional costs likely to arise if, broadly, the provisions of the Bill become law.

In our earlier consideration of the whole matter it was recognised that the proposed changes in the law might involve important consequences from the point of view of social security benefits and financial arrangements. I think that it was widely felt, and understandably so, that if, for example, a wife living apart from her husband found herself divorced without consent at the expiry of the five year period, her position financially deserved careful consideration. For example, if, after the divorce, her husband died, the question of her entitlement to widow's pension on her husband's card might have been affected by the divorce. This point was helpfully taken by my hon. Friend earlier today.

It was also widely felt that the need to safeguard the position of spouses in this respect was certainly not entirely satisfactorily met by the provision, in general terms, that a decree could be refused if it were to result in grave financial or other hardship to the respondent. The position of divorced women has not been overlooked in the planning of the new insurance scheme, and it is being considered at the moment by the Government against that background of possible changes in the law of divorce. That is what I have to say to the House on this important point.

It is obviously not possible at this stage, in advance of the publication of the White Paper on the Government's proposals, to give any indication of what changes may be made. What I do ask is that the House should—and I think it perfectly right and reasonable that it should—proceed to the consideration of the provisions of the Bill in the context of an assurance that these matters are the subject of contemporary current consideration, and that that consideration is taking place against the background to which I have just referred.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

This is a very important matter. Are the Government taking fully into account the fact that this provision would mean a great increase in divorce and, therefore, a considerable increase in the cost of the Welfare State? It would, indeed, create a new arm of the Welfare State. Are the Government, in their present situation, in a position to accept this increase with equanimity? Can they disregard the cost, or are they assessing the actual cost at this stage? It is important to know.

The Solicitor-General

The consideration which the Government are giving to this matter takes into account the estimated cost in terms of social service benefits resulting from the provisions of the Bill if it becomes law. In this connection, I quite agree with the observation made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey, who indicated, if I may say so, with the wisdom one would expect from him, that when he had responsibilities of a kind similar to mine he would not have thought it appropriate to have taken upon himself the treatment of these matters of social benefits and social insurance as affecting this matter.

I do not want—and I say it quite candidly—to get involved in it. I have made careful inquiry about it because of my responsibilities in this debate. I have formed certain impressions of the nature of the overall increment to social security benefits that would be involved by the changes proposed. What I can say without any hesitation is that the whole matter is being considered now by the Government, and is being considered in the context of the very proposals set out in the Bill.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettle-ston)

In view of the very important statement now made by my right hon. and learned Friend—I appreciate that he does not want to go into any depth in trying to indicate what kind of financial proposals will be brought forward in any forthcoming legislation on social security—and in view of the fact that opposition to certain aspects of the Bill by some hon. and right hon. Members and a whole army of organisations stems from the fact that there is no specific reference to the financial arrangements, would it not be advisable that this Bill should be deferred until such time as we have an opportunity to study those proposals? In that respect the Bill might then get a far smoother passage through this House.

The Solicitor-General

I see no reason whatever why consideration of the Bill should be deferred because of what I have said. What I have said is a ground and a reason for not deferring consideration of the Bill. It is entirely for the House to consider the merits of that. What I have done this morning is to indicate as clearly as I can and I hope without any equivocation the position of the Government.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I have much sympathy with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about not going into more detail, and I am sure that the House is obliged to him for informing us that something is under consideration. I wonder if he could go a little further and tell us when we may expect more positive information. He may not be in a position to say, but may we expect the White Paper soon? Hon. Members are quite right in saying that this is very important in regard to the timing of consideration of the Bill.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Member has put that point with characteristic courtesy. I do not suppose that he is any more content than I am with the word "soon". I think it better that I should ask him to be satisfied with my assurance that this matter is currently and contemporaneously in our consideration and having the attention and consideration of the Government.

I trust that my indication of the Government's attitude to this Bill will assist hon. Members on both sides of the House to come to a decision and conclusion on the merits of the Bill.

11.14 a.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

As one of the sponsors of the Bill I regret that the Government appear to have no social conscience. A similar Bill was brought forward in Australia by the Attorney-General there. I thought that the Bill before the House would be debated with the Whips off. The action of the Government is regrettable, although I am glad that we have time to discuss the Bill again.

I was interested in the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) about women. I am chairman of a committee which co-ordinates 23 women's organisations. If there had been the sort of outcry from them which has been suggested, they might have removed me from my chairmanship. They have had plenty of time now to take this matter into account and I have not noticed any such strong opposition.

Sir L. Heald

Does not my hon. Friend know that the National Council of Women has circulated to all hon. Members a statement saying that it will not support any proposal which would make divorce inevitable after five years' separation and that divorce should be granted only when the circumstances prevailing at the latter date make it reasonable and just?

Dame Joan Vickers

The Council has circulated all hon. Members. It is as concerned as I am about financial aspects, but it says that divorce should be available on proof that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and that is one of the things we want to prove.

I find it difficult to speak on this Bill because I feel rather like a Minister who refers back to a question he has previously answered. I feel like referring back to my speech on 9th February because I have not changed my mind in regard to the original proposals. I would like to refer hon. Members to some figures. Just over 93 per cent. of divorce cases in 1966 were undefended and the majority of cases were adultery. A small percentage of wives and a few husbands resisted dissolution of their marriages and the defended cases were more often cases of cruelty or desertion. Divorces were granted in 27,000 cases which were made up in the following way: adultery over 21,000, 10,700 by wife and 10,300 by husband; desertion 11,000, 5,295 by wives and 5,773 by husbands; cruelty 6,934, 405 by wives and 6,529 by husbands; other causes 165, 62 by wives and 103 by husbands. The vulnerable age for a marriage to break up 23 or 24.

I agree with the Attorney-General in Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, who described the philosophy underlying his Act as a stable and sound marriage being indispensable to the maintenance of our way of life. By "stable and sound marriage" he meant a real relationship playing its part in the organic life of the community. Therefore, a formal bond which has no vitality, where the spouses are irreconcilably estranged apart from each other, is not performing the social function of stable and sound marriage in our society. Therefore, the means of dissolving the formal bond when all chance of reconciliation or restoration of vitality of the marriage has completely disappeared has to be found. There is plenty of chance for reconciliation under Clause 3 in this Bill.

I now refer to something which has not been mentioned recently, the work done by probation officers. There has been a very interesting meeting in the South-West group on this matter. It is a statutory duty of the Divorce Court welfare officer, of whom I think there are 46, to undertake this work. It varies according to the courts and according to how many cases are referred to them. The number of cases referred in 1966 was 6,587 overall and those referred to other officers amounted to 1,487 reports. There is the admitted unevenness in the decisions of which case to refer to these officers.

I have some misgiving about Clause 3, which says that the names and addresses should be given by solicitors of those to whom the parties can go. There is no proof that they ever go or that those to whom they are referred will be the right people to effect a reconciliation. The hon. Member who sponsored the Bill last time knows the views which I expressed in Committee. Anyone in this House, particularly, perhaps, Mr. Speaker, who was so well qualified by previous experience, might have names referred to him and that would be considered as a reference to names. It is mentioned in the Law Commission Report as they considered solicitors not trained in the art of marriage conciliation.

Once a divorce case has come to court, it is not very practical to think that there is a reasonable possibility of the parties coming together again. That is why it is a rather cat and mouse concept in the Bill to provide that the case must be adjourned until the court can be reasonably satisfied. I agree also with those who have said that this would tend to be one law for the rich and another for the poor.

We are not steam-rollering the Bill through, and there is the chance to reconsider many points in Committee. I should like to see it established that a single act of adultery should not constitute a breakdown of marriage, because this is humiliating; it leads to spying, and it is an artificial way of obtaining a divorce.

Women are not worried so much about themselves as about the maintenance of their children. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) is introducing a Bill to deal with matrimonial property. I only wish that that Bill had been enacted before this Bill came forward. However, I wish the hon. Member's Bill well and I hope that it will be accepted by the House, because it will make a great difference to the outcome of this Bill.

I have one proposal to make about financial security which I do not think requires legal action. A deserted woman, particularly one in the lower income group, must immediately go to social security for help. If she is divorced, action is taken to secure a decision as to what provision shall be made for herself and her children. At present, social security is paying out between £27 million and £40 million in help to such women and children. This is because the Maintenance Orders Act is not working as it should. Those who desert their wives have discovered too many loopholes in this Act.

I therefore suggest—I think that this would go a long way towards saving the £400,000 which has been mentioned—that immediately a wife is deserted, before any action is taken in court, the social security should assess the amount her husband should pay. A letter could then go to the husband telling him of the amount he must pay and, if he protests, he could take the matter to court. If the wife does not think that she is getting adequate payment, she can go to court. This would give much more security to women, in the early stages, knowing she would get some financial support. It would result in a saving of the time of the court, because many cases would not be defended, and it would result in a saving in legal costs. It would require merely an instruction to the social security people.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

Does not the hon. Lady agree that the difficulty that would arise from the additional court cases to which she has referred would inject into the operation of the Bill the very bitterness which the sponsor of the Bill is anxious to eradicate?

Dame Joan Vickers

The hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. I was suggesting that in many cases there would be no necessity to go to court if an assessment was made by the social security and if there was no intention to seek a divorce. Many court cases would be eliminated.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Even if the husband did not oppose such an assessment, who would enforce the order? These orders, whether made by a court or by anybody else, are unenforceable.

Dame Joan Vickers

I suggest this as a preliminary method to secure the finances of wives and children, and I agree it cannot be enforced unless they go to court. As my hon. and learned Friend says, these orders are not enforceable, because loopholes have been found in the Maintenance Orders Act.

Mr. Doughty

It is not a question of there being loopholes in that Act. It is a question of there being loopholes in the family budget. No man is readily able to accept the financial burden of keeping two homes going.

Dame Joan Vickers

That is true, but that is known at present. No one in the lower income group who is divorced can keep two homes going satisfactorily. Therefore, wives have to go to social security. However, many men who could well contribute something have found loopholes in the Maintenance Orders Act. The Act provides that a man must miss four weeks before his earnings can be attached. So a man pays in the third week and can therefore get away with paying 12 times a year. The same applies to those who pay at two-monthly intervals: they can get away with it if they wish to. Just as driving licences are endorsed, so National Insurance cards should be endorsed with the amount of money men have to pay, so that automatically their employers would be able to deduct the right amount.

"Putting Asunder" says on page 148: 'thousands of illegitimate children are living an apparently normal family life with both their natural parents although the law recognises no legal relationship between them and their fathers'. Being deprived of the natural relationship to one parent or the other can have a far more devastating effect upon a child than the social and legal disabilities of illegitimacy itself. … Consequently it can only be misleading to concentrate attention on the denial of divorce in such circumstances, as if that were the root of the problem. Then there is the question of remarriage. Large numbers of divorced women remarry. In 1965, 23,600 divorced women, or 64 per cent. of the number divorced in that year, remarried, and 24,300 men, or 66 per cent. of the number divorced in that year remarried. Of 12,200,000 married couples in England and Wales in 1965, only 0.3 per cent. were divorced.

In Australia, which has similar legislation to that which we are now considering, the number of divorces increased by only 1,142 from 1959 to 1965, although between those dates the population had greatly increased. Australia's divorce laws, on which we have based much of this Bill, prove that there is no resulting great increase in divorce. Since 1920 New Zealand has had divorce by consent after three years' separation. I do not think it can be said that New Zealand has a more permissive way of life than we do. Even if one party objects, seven years' separation in New Zealand and five years' separation in Australia constitutes ground for divorce. These facts should help us to appreciate that the enactment of the Bill will not make our society more expensive than it is at present.

I hope that the Bill will go to a Standing Committee. It was a great pity that because of circumstances, the last Bill did not have a Report stage when hon. Members outside the Standing Committee could have expressed their views without reiterating today so many of the views which were discussed in Committee. As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I assure those who are against it that there is no intention to steamroller. One Amendment was accepted last time, and since then we have had further time to look at the Bill and we have had further consultations and listened to other views.

There has been plenty of time for people to make protests, but I have had no more protests since those which I received to the original Bill. In Committee, we can discuss the matter in the light of what has been said today to see whether further improvements can be made. I hope that the House will consider that the Bill is worth taking further, because I am certain that it will create more happiness for many people than do the present conditions and that it will enable them to lead more honest lives than they may now do when separated.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) told the House she believed that the Bill would bring more happiness, and I suppose that she meant into the lives of families and homes and marriages. I believe the Bill to be full of tears. Any extension of our divorce laws along the lines proposed would undermine family life and marriages more than anything that we have done before.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General is a very old friend and it is a pity that I have to address my remarks to him, but perhaps I may address them first to the sponsor of the Bill, who is a member of the party to which I belong. I ask him whether the people of Wales are crying out for a Bill like this. Is this the biggest difficulty which the people of Wales have to face?

I remember the days when the people of Wales, like my own people, were talking about the social conditions in which we had to live and against which we had to fight—the bad housing, bad industrial conditions, the poverty, the degradation and deprivation of dignity in family life. It was the people of Wales to whom I first listened when I was a boy and espoused the cause which I am still trying hard to follow. I believe that the people of Wales are not demanding the Bill. I believe that they want measures of the kind I have mentioned, Bills dealing with the problems I have mentioned, problems which have not been eradicated on Merseyside, nor in the valleys of Wales.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

I can assure my hon. Friend that the people of Wales are as determined to solve the social problems which confront us today as the people of Merseyside, but, at the same time, they are compassionate in their consideration of those whom the present divorce laws are making unhappy.

Mr. Mahon

One of the greatest Welshmen I ever heard in the House, the then right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—and I was a supporter of his from the moment I came into the House, much to the chagrin and annoyance of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of whom sit on the Government Front Bench, always said that Socialism was the law of priorities. That is the point; this Bill is not a priority. The people are not clamouring for the Bill.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that the Government had adopted some sort of line of neutrality. I interrupted him to ask why the Government had not had the courage to introduce the Bill themselves if it had the social importance which they said it had. I have been filled with sadness by some of the attitudes of the Labour Government. I have reported it to the highest authorities in the Labour Government. They are doing things which they should not be doing and they have done things which they should not have done. They have introduced social legislation which is no part of Labour philosophy.

If the Government are adopting a position of neutrality, how is it that they have spent so much time looking into the provisions which will have to be made if the Bill becomes law? Surely they have prejudged the issue. I am putting myself right if the Government will not put themselves right and I am saying that this is a Government-sponsored Bill just as the Abortion Bill was a Government-sponsored Bill. That is what I believe and I have not gone behind the eight-ball in this matter. I am just as much part of the scene of this party as was my father before me. We did not make a Labour Party to see this sort of legislation brought forward: we have other priorities.

All my life I have been opposed to hon. Members opposite, but I did not expect this sort of thing from the Labour Party and I want it to be known that I do not expect it. I have the idea that there are some influences at work and I shall try to enumerate them. Who is it who is so powerful that he can ignore the traditional postures of the Labour Party and bring pressure to bear on the Government even to make time available and even to make plans? Was it the Liaison Committee? Was it the Divorce Reform Association? Was it the Humanist Society? Does anybody want to tell me who it was who put pressure on the Government, or did the Cabinet need no pressure? Did the Government want to do these things themselves? Do the Government themselves want the permissive society?

These are all perfectly valid questions and, after a lifetime in this movement, I am perturbed that we have come to such a sorry pass that I find myself in this position of having left school at 14 years of age, joining a trade union—the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) smiles; if he had been in the same environment as I was, he would still be there: I am here.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that there are many Members on the Labour benches who feel very strongly that they are in the Labour Party partly because we want to see progressive and humane social change. While I accept that his objection to this kind of Measure is based—and let us be blunt—on religious views, which I do not share, and while I can well accept his sincerity, he should accept the sincerity of those who support this tradition of progressive and humane reforms which must be part of our continuing philosophy.

Mr. Mahon

It is the hon. Gentleman who is wrong. He is making assumptions. Thank God I have a faith, as many hon. Members have a faith, but I did not mention it. I did not say that I objected to the Bill, because I was of the Catholic faith. Of course, I am a Catholic, but my reason, apart from my faith, tells me that this is a bad Bill. My hon. Friend has made the sort of intellectual assumption which is always wrong. I am glad that I gave way to him. I hope that people will take this seriously. There are many thousands like me who look at this very gravely. We will certainly make adjudications, when the right time comes, as to who is responsible.

Sir C. Osborne

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Solicitor-General has confessed that the Government have assumed that the Bill will become law? It therefore becomes part of Government policy. The Government are making financial provisions for unwanted spouses. A question that I would like him to put is: supposing the Chancellor says that he will not find the extra money, where will it come from?

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman should not put words of that kind into my mouth, which I did not utter. It is surely perfectly proper and sensible for the Government to make preparations in their consideration of the White Paper on Social Insurance, and to take into account the possibility that this Bill may become law. Our attitude on this is perfectly fair.

Mr. Mahon

I will not enter into that argument, except to say that my right hon. and learned Friend said that we should get this into the proper perspective. I was thinking about trying to get the wages of an ordinary working man into proper perspective with this sort of social upheaval. What possible chance would there have been for me, one of a family of 11? Where would we have been if the provisions of the Bill had operated in such circumstances? Who do I belong to under those circumstances?

I want to tell the Government that I do not belong to the State. I will support the State in all that is reasonable, but I belong to a family and I am an individual. The State is not "supra" to the family, to the husband, the wife or child. Some hon. Members would have us believe that it is, but it is not, because the State cannot recreate us. I make my stand perfectly clear, in case the party I belong to is going permissive, in case they have taken decisions which will bring this country to a permissive state. I want to be no part of it.

We have had a spate of these Bills. If this Bill goes through, what will be the next activity? We are perfectly entitled, when Parliamentary time is being used, to ask this. Will voluntary schools be next or will it be euthanasia? These decisions are being taken outside this House. We are told that there is great pressure in Parliament for these things. Lots of seminars are taking place in all sorts of societies all over the country.

I want to know what the Government intend. What is their next ambition? Is it to destroy religion in voluntary schools, or to take religion out of all schools in the country? These are the things which are coming to our ears. There is no doubt about it, maybe people do not like me saying so. These are the vital questions people are asking, as they have every right to ask a Member of Parliament, and as we certainly have every right to ask the Government Front Bench.

I knew when I stood up that the cynics and the sceptics, and those who feel that a man who thinks that marriage is a sacrament is outmoded, would be against me. I like to think that words like "love, honour and obey" still find some echo in the hearts and minds of the people. I like to feel that this country was great, is great and will be great because of this devotion to the basic family life.

We are talking about economic difficulties, but it will not be economic difficulties which will undermine this country. We can get over these, we always have done and always will. Our people work hard and they have ingenuity, initiative and ability. The Bill is the sort of thing that will undermine the country. This is what will put us at the bottom of the league table of nations. I believe that with all my heart and soul, otherwise I would not say so.

In my very long history in the House I have been patient. I have had to be. If I was not patient within myself, sickness made me so. I do not want to say the things that I have to say to the House, and I certainly do not want to say these things to my party, but I hope that they will take note that these are the things which the people are saying. The people are afraid that their marriages will be undermined by legislation. We should try to make marriage easier. We know of the great problems, seeing the boy and the girl coming to us, trying to get their marriage working, against all the difficulties and vicissitudes of bad social conditions.

These are the things at which we should be looking, the bad housing, the casual system of labour. These are undermining marriages and these are the things at which, particularly a Labour Government should be looking. There was a time when the difficulties of our people, particularly the working class to whom I very much belong, were automatically reflected in a Labour Government's legislation; when we could look with assurance at the Labour Government and say, "There is where our heart lies." People may have to look again to see where the dignity of the home, the dignity of their marriage and the future of their country lies. They will have to do these things.

I could say much more about the Bill. None of its Clauses will make things any better. I am sure that they will make things considerably worse. They will undermine the basis of this nation, upon which we have so long relied. Before the House comes to a decision it should be extremely careful.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his various arguments. I know that everyone who has heard him would like to pay tribute to the sincerity of his speech. He obviously feels very deeply about the issues concerned. I do not agree with him that this is a Government-sponsored Bill. It is not. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) when he said that there is a need for more Government responsibility in such matters.

Our Parliamentary system is at fault with great social problems such as the divorce law. It seems intolerable that these reforms depend so much on the luck and accidents of Private Members' Bills. This is an overdue reform, and such reforms can be held up for years while successive Private Members' Bills are obstructed year after year. I hope that this one will succeed.

For several years, I have been an enthusiastic supporter of divorce law reform, and I am very pleased to be a sponsor of this Bill. My reasons for wanting to see a change in the law are twofold. First, I believe—and I think that most hon. Members agree with this—that the present divorce laws contain a great deal of hypocrisy and cause unnecessary bitterness and unhappiness between the parties. Secondly, it is deeply distressing that about 200,000 children have been born in this country as illegitimate, and they will never be made legitimate unless this change is made in the law.

I realise that the proposed changes may cause hardship in some cases. But this hardship must surely be balanced against the very great hardship felt by illegitimate children and their parents. I am clear in my mind where the greater hardship lies.

There is some opposition to the Bill, and it is right that those who believe in reform should be prepared to meet this opposition with reasonable arguments on the merits of the case. The case against the Bill was forcefully argued by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell), who said, in his closing words on Friday, 6th December: This is a disgraceful Bill, and I shall fight it at every stage".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1968; Vol. 774, c. 2050.] I am sorry that I was not present to hear my hon. and learned Friend speak, but I have read his speech carefully and I should like to reply to it point by point.

My hon. and learned Friend started by saying that people who wanted to see a change made in the law were in a small minority. He said: Members are also apt to forget that those vocal people who continually clamour for an alteration in the divorce law which will enable them to get a divorce are a very small minority and are all people for whom the present divorce laws provide no relief. It follows that by and large, with their very few exceptions, they are guilty men and women who have left wives or husbands and gone to live with somebody else. That is a very narrow view. It ignores the fact that many distinguished lawyers and leaders of the Church also want to see a major reform made in the divorce law. It ignores the Church's report, "Putting Asunder". It ignores the report of the Law Commissioners. The people who helped to write those reports are not guilty people. They are sensible, humane people who realise that the present divorce laws are neither fair nor just. I have had several meetings in my constituency with the clergy in my area about the Bill. I find almost universal support for the ideas in the Bill. Practically all the clergymen agreed that the concept of the matrimonial offence was out of date.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West went on to say that there had been a vast increase in divorce in the last 20 or 25 years. He said—and I particularly noticed these words— If the Bill is passed, it will give another surge forward to the steady disintegration of family life that has been going on in this country for the past 20 or 25 years. The time must surely soon so come, if it has not come already, when we must ask ourselves whether the institution of marriage is worth bothering about any more."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1968; Vol. 744. c. 2043–4.] I regard that as a cynical view and a great exaggeration. The divorce rate has increased, but so has the marriage rate.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

Does my hon. Friend suggest that the marriage rate has increased by 1,800 per cent. which is the increase in divorce?

Mr. Awdry

Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will be patient and will let me develop my argument. One must keep the facts in perspective. There are more marriages because people marry younger and live longer. One of the reasons for an increase in the number of divorce petitions was the coming into force of legal aid to enable people to file divorce petitions who would not have been able to afford to do so before.

To suggest that marriage as an institution is disintegrating is a travesty of the truth. Let us consider the number of divorces per 1,000 married women between the ages of 20 and 49. The average number of petitions filed annually from 1950 to 1954 was 4.42 per 1,000 married women. In 1959, it was 3.52, and in 1965 it was 5.77.

Sir C. Osborne

From where do the divorces come to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) referred?

Mr. Awdry

I ask my hon. Friend to accept that these facts are correct. In spite of all the prejudice which has been whipped up, fewer than six married women between the ages I have quoted in every 1,000 get involved in divorce petitions each year. It is important to keep our feet on the ground. This is not a high figure. It is not helpful to throw doubt on the institution of marriage.

Mr. Peter Mahon

The hon. Gentleman said that his figures are authentic and that we must not get excited about this matter. Would he agree that, if we must remain placid and patient, there is no room for the Bill?

Mr. Bruce Campbell


Mr. Awdry

I must answer the point of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon). It is not helpful in a debate of this kind to throw doubt on the institution of marriage. We must keep the matter in perspective.

I am, of course, concerned that one marriage in 13 ends in divorce. However, I believe that the Bill will not weaken the institution of marriage but strengthen it. That is why I support it. I am a happily married man, and, like the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), I believe in honour and love.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

May I take up my hon. Friend's figure of six divorces among 1,000 married women? If he remembers that a married life will perhaps last for 20 years, his figures mean 150 in every 1,000 married women.

Mr. Awdry

I will press on, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

I turn to the point which has given rise to most discussion today. I come to the Clause dealing with the five-year period of separation, which, I admit, is the most controversial part of the Bill. This is the last time that I will quote my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West. He said: When he"— that is, a husband— grows tired of his wife, and she ceases to be sexually attractive to him, he will be allowed to desert his wife and children, go off with a younger woman and, after five years, to force his completely innocent wife into a divorce so that he can marry the new woman. Then my hon. and learned Friend for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) intervened to say: Then 5,0 off with another one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th Dec. 1968; Vol. 774, c. 2045.]

Mr. Doughty

After five years.

Mr. Awdry

This is an unfair attack on the Bill, and I will explain why.

It is not right or fair to suggest that the Bill allows anyone to desert anyone else. Whether we pass the Bill or not, regrettably many marriages will break down. People fall out of love, and no law which we pass will prevent it. Surely no one will suggest that a marriage is a live marriage when the parties have been separated for fully five years. Surely everyone must agree that then the marriage has broken down. But under the Bill the court is not bound to dissolve that marriage.

There are two safeguards, and, although they have been referred to, it is right to refer to them again. First, under Clause 4, the court may refuse a decree altogether if the divorce would result in grave financial or other hardship. It does not deal purely with financial hardship. In certain cases, when the court has considered the conduct of the parties and the situation of the wife, there is an overriding power to refuse a decree on grounds other than financial hardship.

Secondly, under Clause 6, the court will not grant a decree unless the financial provision made by the petitioner for the respondent is reasonable or the best which can be arranged in the circumstances. This is a very wide power indeed, far wider than any existing power. It would enable a court to withhold a decree unless a very large proportion of the husband's capital was transferred to the wife. I can envisage cases in which the court would refuse a decree unless the husband was literally stripped of all his capital.

Finally, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West dealt with illegitimacy. He said that the proper way to deal with it was to alter the law relating to illegitimacy and not the law of divorce. I do not understand how anyone could propose this. Illegitimacy still causes very deep distress to the people concerned, and the only way to solve the problem is to allow the parents to marry.

I have spoken long enough. I realise that I have incurred a certain amount of wrath and opposition from these benches.

I would like to sum up my reasons for supporting the Bill. I believe that it is humane, fair and realistic. As I have said, I do not think that it will weaken marriage. I believe that it will strengthen it. It will encourage reconciliation and it will prevent the isolated act of adultery being a ground for divorce on its own. I am sure that that is right.

The Bill will give the court useful powers to adjourn cases for long periods. It will strengthen the power of the court to award proper maintenance and deal with the problem of pensions.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis


Mr. Awdry

If my hon. Friend reads the Bill, he will see that Clause 6 deals with the position of pensions.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

My hon. Friend must know that whatever is written into a Divorce Bill, it cannot deal with pensions. Only the Government can deal with pensions. The Government are themselves in a difficulty in dealing with pensions, because many are private pensions in which the Government are not concerned.

Mr. Awdry

That is not a fair statement of the position. There is power in the Bill to deal with pensions. In the case of private pensions, the court can prevent a divorce being granted unless the pension is assigned to the wife or funds are set aside to provide a proper income or deferred annuity for the wife. The Solicitor-General has today given us a most useful assurance to show that the Government are thinking about the whole question of social security as it affects divorced people.

This Bill removes the sham and hypocrisy from the law and a great deal of bitterness from the unhappy people who, often through no fault of their own, are involved in breakdown of marriage.

12.2 p.m.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

Like the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), I support the Bill. I would like briefly to say why I think that it is an interim Measure and that it certainly does not go far enough.

The hon. Member said that the Bill would remove hypocrisy. Unfortunately, it only partially does this. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General indicated that he had moved in his thinking from his consideration that the matrimonial offence should be retained in law to the situation that he thought that the principle of breakdown of marriage was good but that guidelines should be maintained. When we look at those guidelines, we see how hypocrisy will still remain. For example, under ground (c), Clause 2 (1) states: that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition". Many people, as we know and as was admitted by opponents of the Bill, agree to divorce. There is a consensual situation. They decide to separate and to set up separate households. Under the Bill, however, they have still to agree that one person is guilty and another is innocent. Surely there should be room for a joint petition, as, I am told, is the situation in Switzerland. It is certainly not a permissive society in the Canton of Berne. The Bill is chiefly to be welcomed because it takes the immense step forward of allowing people to obtain a divorce against the consent of their partners after an extremely long period—namely, five years—has passed.

The sponsors of the Bill have missed a great opportunity. One can rally behind reform only a certain political and social dynamic. I regret very much that the Bill is such an interim Measure and that in 10 to 20 years' time somebody else will have to come before the House and introduce a new one.

Sir C. Osborne

To do what?

Dr. Gray

To introduce further reforms of divorce. I will say a little later what I would do.

I consider the Bill to be transitional because it meets a transitional situation in our society. Women have not yet got equal pay for equal work. They have not yet achieved complete economic independence with men. Alterations have not yet been made in the law to ensure, for example, that property acquired during marriage is equally divided between the two. We see, however, the drive in history. We see that women will become as independent as men are today and one sees that they must be treated in the matrimonial situation as complete equals.

If I were bringing forward a Divorce Bill, I would rely on two situations only, namely, simple breakdown and complex breakdown. It seems to me that when two rational adults have decided to separate, when they recognise that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, if there are no children there is only the question of property settlement. Indeed, I look forward to the time when divorces will be dealt with not by the courts, but by the registrar of births, deaths and marriages in cases in which agreement is reached on the division of property between two partners and there are no children. I would say that there was a situation of complex breakdown when there was disagreement over property division and when there were children and, therefore, that the community must come into the picture to ensure that the most equable arrangement possible was reached.

I am extremely pleased that although during the Committee stage of the last Bill my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General strongly opposed my Amendment—the only Amendment which was accepted by the Committee—he has now changed his thinking on it. He has indicated similarly that he has changed his thinking on the doctrine of the matrimonial offence. I hope that he will look at the Bill again and will accept further Amendments moved in Committee.

There is no getting away from the fact that Clause 4 is a rich man's charter. In my contention, the court should achieve the best and most reasonable settlement possible in the material circumstances of the people involved. I hope, therefore, that we shall get rid of this Clause in Committee, just as we got rid of a similar Clause in the last Bill.

I cannot understand why moderate and reasonable people should oppose such a moderate Bill. It is, as I have argued, only a transitional Measure. I expect the Bill to receive overwhelming support, but do not let us think that it is definitive. It goes only a short way in what I and many other people who live in our society consider to be a desirable direction.

12.8 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) said that he could not understand how moderate and reasonable people could be opposed to the Bill. I hope that I may persuade him with both moderation and reason that that is possible.

First, I would like to make it clear for this side of the House that the Solicitor-General was quite right in saying that there is no party issue or party line on the Bill. While I have the honour to speak from the Dispatch Box, I must make it clear that the views which I express are my personal views and my views alone. It seemed to me, however, that the Solicitor-General was placed in a less happy position than I am and that he was walking something of a tightrope. He will know that I say that without any intention to be critical. I think that he is placed in a very difficult situation.

It is worth taking a moment on the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the alleged giving of time. Sooner or later, this House will have to face the question of whether private Members' business is to remain private Members' business. I have not been here as long as many others have, but I have always understood that private Members' time was private Members' time, that the rules were such that minorities were protected, and that both the Government and the official Opposition kept out of it. If we are to change that practice, that is a matter which the Leader of the House might consider for debate in the House, so that we have a Resolution, and know where we stand.

It is something of a misuse of words to say that the Government have made time available. I do not think that that is what has happened at all. What has happened is that, with the assistance of the Government's authority, a procedural device has been used to continue the Second Reading debate on a Tuesday morning. If the Government had considered this to be important, and had said that it was so important that they would give private Members some of their time in the afternoon, or evening, at a reasonable hour, so that the matter could be discussed, that would be different.

I do not think that we should conceal from ourselves what has happened. Experience has shown that mornings are not convenient for the assembly of a full House. What has happened is not that time has been made available, but a procedure has been used, with the assistance of the Government Whips, to ensure that the debate continues at what is known to be a very inconvenient time.

Sir C. Osborne

Surely the Government have made a choice of priorities, even within my hon. and learned Friend's narrow definition of private Members' time, in that they have chosen to use the machinery to enable a debate to take place on this Bill, and not on other Bills which some of us feel have an equal priority? The Government are, therefore, making a choice, and the Bill therefore becomes a Government Bill.

Mr. Percival

The Government are using the procedure to advance the progress of the Bill, without giving any time in the sense in which I understand that word.

Can the Government really claim to be neutral in this matter any longer? The reason given for breaching what I always understood to be the rule about private Members' time is that this is a matter of great social importance, and the Government have always claimed—and I do not deny that they mean it—that they are interested in social matters.

We have heard that the Bill raises financial considerations to the tune of £400,000 in connection with the Legal Aid scheme. What is more, we have learned for the first time this morning—and I think that this is something which the House should consider—that the Government have got so far as considering the changes which they would make in the insurance schemes if the Bill went through. I ask the Government to reconsider their position. Having regard to those three considerations, can they really say that they are, or can any longer remain neutral? Has not the position been reached when they should take over responsibility for the Bill?

None of this is aimed personally at the Solicitor-General. I accept that most of these matters are outside his province. Matters affecting other Government Departments are under consideration, and unless and until the Bill is taken over by the Government neither the House nor the Committee will have the assistance of the Ministers who could help us on these important matters. I therefore ask the Government to consider whether the hon. Gentleman opposite was not right when he said that if these matters were under consideration, would not it be advisable to defer consideration of the Bill for a little while so that the House may be informed of the Government's thinking on these related matters before it comes to a decision?

I appreciate that there are those who want to come to a speedy decision on this matter. No doubt the Government do. No doubt those who have made up their minds definitely, and for some time since, are among those who do, but I hope it will be appreciated that there are hon. Members, and perhaps more widely, many in the country who feel deep concern about the Bill.

The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) said that the Bill did not go nearly far enough, and I think that that raises an important issue. The House should endeavour to lead thinking on issues like this, but the one thing that it should not try to do is to ram its thoughts down the throats of the people. The House must lead thought by persuading people that such-and-such is a good change. Only when that is done is the House entitled to make that change. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that the Bill does not go nearly far enough. I believe that it is out of tune with the thinking of probably the majority of people.

Dr. Gray

Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this is entirely a matter of opinion? Against his view I argue that the majority of people would like a Bill which goes further. These are questions of judgment, not of evidence.

Mr. Percival

I take the opposite view. I do not think that these are questions of judgment, but of evidence. We can only go on the people we meet. If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the majority of people think as he does, I recommend him to visit Lancashire, where some hon. Gentlemen opposite will, I am sure, join me in introducing him to a representative collection of people who take a contrary view.

I agree that this is not a sweeping measure of reform, even assuming for the moment that it is a reform, but there are many points which will have to be examined in detail in Committee if the Bill gets a Second Reading, and I want to try to steer clear of those. I think that one of the things which is probably a Committee point is the reduction of a period for desertion to two years.

The three main things which the Bill does, the three things which really introduce differences of substance, are these: first, it introduces the concept of divorce by consent in paragraph (d); secondly, it introduces the concept of unilateral divorce against the will of an innocent party, in paragraph (e); thirdly, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) said, it introduces complications in the law of divorce to a very substantial degree. What we have to consider is whether the first of those two, which some people think will confer benefits, will, in fact, do so, and are worth the third.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Brace Campbell), that though the concept of divorce by consent is a new one we have reached the stage at which we ought at least to try it. That is of itself a substantial change. With many others who for many years have regarded consensual divorce as being wholly wrong, I am prepared to go as far with the promoters of the Bill as saying that dishonesties have crept in under the present practice, and that these can be remedied only by a change of this kind. I am not opposed to that. I think that at least it should be tried.

I am sceptical about the two-year period, especially when one looks at Clause 3 (3) and (5) and finds that even during that two years the parties may spend one year together. This applies also in desertion. But perhaps that is a Committee point.

On the second major change—the five-year unilateral divorce—I express the view which I expressed before: that the question of legitimacy is a red herring. Whether in law a person is legitimate or illegitimate could easily be dealt with by the House in a simple Measure. I do not believe that the legal situation presents any difficulty, remembering that social views on legitimacy are involved. If people are enabled to marry after they have had children, in the eyes of many of their neighbours who know that a child was conceived out of wedlock or born before the marriage, that is a social stigma. That view must be eradicated if we are to improve the lot of the illegitimate. A Bill of this kind cannot touch the problem.

We agree that the Bill represents a substantial departure in principle. Lawyers are usually those who recommend departures in principle, so that my objection to this provision does not rest on the ground that I am a lawyer who does not like to see principles changed. I like to see them change only when there is a good case for doing so.

The second part of that observation—that there should be a good case for changing a principle—is the important one. I doubt whether the supporters of the Bill have measured the benefits that they believe will result from this departure from principle with the disadvantages. We are all aware of cases of people living together but unable to marry because one or other is already married and who would be happier if they were able to marry.

But I wonder whether anybody can say with precision just how many such people there are. To some of them, the Bill may bring happiness, but let us not forget that for every couple who receive some happiness by this means there will be at least one other person to whom distress will be caused. Let us not believe that every husband or wife who hangs on to his or her partner in marriage is doing so from sheer spite. Many do so because of conscience, religion or another reason which seems perfectly good to them and which we, from the outside, should be slow to castigate as spite.

In the Second Reading debate on the previous Bill, on 9th February, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said that, on balance, the Bill would resolve more hardships than it would create. I agree with his remark about there being a balance. We must accept that there will be some hardship caused by what we are doing to relieve people of hardship. I am not so sure about his comment that it will resolve more hardships than it will create. I do not know how one can assess this, even by counting heads. Can it be said that the additional happiness that will be brought to a couple who may have been living together for many years, without being able to marry, will outweigh the great distress that will be caused to the one person who has been divorced and who, in his or her heart, wishes to remain married for life?

Mr. Dewar

Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the main distress to the so-called innocent party—say, the wife—took place when she was deserted and had to go through the social stigma of telling her friends that her hushand had left for another woman, and not at the time of the legal formalities when the divorce took place?

Mr. Percival

I do not believe that it is as simple as that. There are many men and women to whom the institution of marriage is so sacred that anything is less of a hardship than being party to a divorce. Nothing can cause more distress to such people than to have their marriages terminated. In some cases it may be as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but in view of the deep human feelings which we are trying to consider, I doubt whether it is the right of any man to cast judgment on where the balance will lie. One must accept that at the very time when one is bringing happiness to one person or one couple, one is necessarily bringing distress to others.

It is important to get the matter in perspective by reminding ourselves of how far the Measure will be of help. A wife who is living with another man will be able to take advantage of these provisions because there will be no question of financial provision having to be made and she will then be in a position to marry the man with whom she wishes to live, and that is right. But I doubt whether it will be nearly as easy for the husband because if the alleged financial safeguards in the Bill mean anything, he must show that he can support two households. If the provision concluded with the words "… provided, if the petitioner is a husband, that he can satisfy the court that he can maintain two households," then everybody would think twice about the matter. However, that is the effect of adding together the different parts of the Bill; that is, if the financial safeguards mean anything.

I have shown that we start with the proposition that an entirely new principle is being introduced. I agree that the effect of it will be very limited. That being so, will the result of that be worth the price we must pay for it? I have concluded that it will not, and I say that for two main reasons.

The first is because it seems that it must make inroads into the concept of the sanctity of marriage. I am sufficiently old-fashioned to think that that still matters, although I cannot define the concept or say why it matters. I believe that there are in this life some things that we cannot understand or put into words, although we believe just as sincerely that they matter. I believe that the aura of mystery—the mystical union of two people for life—is something which contributes to the stability of marriage and contributes enormously to the happiness of marriage.

I therefore cannot resist the conclusion that anything that makes inroads into the institution of marriage will lessen the stability and happiness of marriage. I am sorry that some hon. Members have spoken of this concept as "humbug" and "hypocrisy". I appreciate that many people who are legally married do not share my view and have no respect for the institution of marriage. But there is little that we in this House can do to put that right. However, we should certainly not do anything which might tend to show that we, too, may not have as much respect for the institution of marriage as we had.

I accept that these are matters of personal opinion, but if we are to introduce the principle of a five-year compulsory divorce against the wishes of a totally innocent party, then we will be interpretated as saying, "We do not think that marriage is entitled to as much respect as it used to enjoy." That must be detrimental, and I am deliberately couching my remarks in moderate terms. I do not think that anyone is entitled to do anything but express his views in moderate terms on such a subject. Secondly, the price we pay for this is the fearful complications that the Bill introduces, all of which are really introduced to provide some sort of answer to arguments on the five-year term that would otherwise be irresistible.

Perhaps I have been moralising to some extent but, on occasion, one must. One is a little diffident about doing so as a rule, but on occasions like this one has to put that diffidence on one side and express a personal view. I turn to the rest of my observations rather as a lawyer with some practical experience of the Divorce Division, but more especially as one who has taken the opportunity to discuss the Bill with a wide range of those in practice at the Divorce Bar. I want to remove some of the misconceptions that, as a lawyer, I believe are present in people's minds and are influencing them on the Bill.

One of the most important things that the House has to bear in mind all the time is that we must, for goodness' sake, be sure that we know what the Bill does. There are at least four reasons why I think that some of the views expressed in this debate indicate that those concerned are not quite clear about the effect of what is proposed. I do not challenge that they know what they want to do: what I am not so happy about is whether they are clear about what the Bill would do.

This emerges in four respects. First, there have been those who have said that by the Bill we are substituting something else for the concept of the matrimonial offence. I hope that no hon. Member will be under that misapprehension. It is only a matter of words—the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) shakes his head, but it will not take me a moment to show that that is the case. The principal words of the principal Clause refer to irretrievable breakdown, but there is no onus on the petitioner to prove irretrievable breakdown. In fact, the onus rests the other way: a court has to grant a decree if any one of the specific grounds is made out unless it is established that there has not been irretrievable breakdown. The first three items that then follow under alleged irretrievable breakdown are the three we have known for so long as the principal matrimonial offences, and no amount of wrapping up in words can conceivably disguise that fact.

Secondly, there are those who welcome the Bill because they think that it makes divorce easier all round—

Mr. Weitzman

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Bill sets out the old grounds in exactly the same way. If he looks at Clause 2 (1) (a) he will see that two things have to be established: that adultery has been committed and that the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent. Today, a divorce can be obtained by proving just one act of adultery. How, then, can the hon. and learned Gentleman say that his proposition is correct?

Mr. Percival

With respect, I think that that is a debating point. In the interests of brevity I was drawing attention to the fact that the first three grounds are the three old matrimonial offences we have known for a long time—

Mr. Weitzman indicated dissent.

Mr. Percival

Yes, with some frills on them. What happens here is that, in addition to proving the adultery, the petitioner must show that he finds it intolerable to live with the respondent. But, first of all, he has to prove the adultery.

Mr. James Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Could we not be sure that it would be almost impossible in law to prove that it was intolerable to live with somebody, or not to live with someone?

Mr. Percival

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Turning to the complications of the Measure, Clause 3 (3) deals with what is and what is not to be taken into account in considering whether it is intolerable for the petitioner to live with the respondent. Here, the difficulties further appear. Under Clause 2 (1) (a), one has first to prove adultery. That is the matrimonial offence which has been the ground for divorce for as long as we have had divorce, and it does not matter how much we wrap it up. Subsection (1) (b) means cruelty, perhaps widened, and put in broader terms than now exist. Nevertheless it connotes the concept of the matrimonial offence. Paragraph (c) is simply desertion with the period shortened.

The second misconception that I believe is in some people's minds is that the Bill will make it easier in all respects to get a divorce. As this point has been averted to by a number of speakers I can deal with it very briefly. I believe that the mistake to be that the Bill makes it easier in cases where there is little ground for saying that it should be easier, and more difficult and complicated in some other cases where there might be something to be said for simplifying the matter.

As was pointed out both by the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) during the previous Second Reading debate, and has been referred to in this debate, the Bill will make it more difficult for a man of limited means to get a divorce in any circumstances. It introduces, as I hope the House appreciates, a new and very general discretion to refuse a decree. There is no longer, by the Bill, any right for anyone to have a decree in any circumstances. That is the effect of Clause 4, which introduces an entirely new concept. It puts everything in issue. It introduces immense scope for blackmail of the rich—I can just see an unscrupulous person saying to the other side, "I will put everything in issue under Clause 4—what will you pay?"—and makes life very difficult for those of limited means.

In the case of adultery, an extra requirement is introduced which, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) has just said, brings in a concept which is not easy to translate into practical terms. The ground of cruelty is made wider still. I will not go through the provisions—some make it easy and some make it more difficult—but, overall, Clause 4 introduces a new concept which is the price that has to be paid for the new five-year ground against the will of the other party. I hope that the House will ask itself very carefully whether that is a price worth paying.

Next, I must refer to the question of adequate financial safeguards. It may be that we in the House are now perfectly clear about the value of those safeguards, but I am not at all sure whether or not all those outside the House who are interested are clear about it. My view is that the promoters of the Bill must face up fairly and squarely to the one simple fact that as long as the words … or the best that can be made in the circumstances are in Clause 6, that Clause is utterly useless as any form of safeguard for the financial position of the respondent.

All the Clause says is that the court shall not make absolute the decree of divorce unless it is satisfied—and in most cases coming before the courts there would be very little difficulty in so satisfying the court—that an offer of a very little was the best that could be made in the circumstances. The court would then have no jurisdiction to withhold the decree. There would still be Clause 4, of course, but this is where we get into the jungle.

Clause 6 is supposed to provide the financial safeguards, and I believe that it will not do so. If that is right, a respondent will have to say to himself, "I had better oppose this decree on the grounds open to me under Clause 4". Then one has defended petitions, because this is a matter of defence under Clause 4. In any event, what is likely then to happen? One can visualise the court having before it two cases on the same day.

One involves a husband with plenty of money and the other a husband with no money. Is the court to say, when all the circumstances are equal, that it will grant divorce to the first party because the financial conditions can be met, but not to the other party? What nonsense we are making of divorce and marriage in that way.

Sir M. Galpern

What is to happen to the decree if an offer is made and accepted, but never implemented?

Mr. Percival

That is a very practical problem. It crossed my mind when I saw that under Clause 6 (3) (b) the court has obtained a satisfactory undertaking from the petitioner that he will make such financial provision for the respondent as the court may approve. Everyone who has been professionally concerned with matrimonial affairs would, I think, agree that the difficult part is securing enforcement of any order or undertaking. The point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) is an extension of what I have been saying. I agree that it is a further difficulty.

I have been longer than I intended because I have given way a number of times. I have heard it said in this debate and in the Second Reading debate on the former Bill that it is desirable to simplify the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) said on the last Second Reading that this was an attempt to provide a civilised way of dealing with these disputes. Speaking purely as a lawyer, I think that it will create a jungle in the practice of the law.

I shudder to think what inquiries may be opened up under Clause 4. In the previous Second Reading debate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) were at least agreed on one thing—that there may be some cases where in the interests of the children a broken marriage should stay together, whereas in other cases it may be to the interest of the children that the parties should part. This is a matter which might be raised under Clause 4. I take it as a practical example of the difficult situation which was referred to in the last Second Reading debate.

Quite apart from that, one has only to read Clause 4 to see that the scope of inquiries which might be initiated far exceed anything which the divorce courts have ever been required to agree to or to decide upon. The promotors appreciate that something must be put in to provide an apparent safeguard against the rigours of the five-years provision. So they put in this Clause, which will create all sorts of practical difficulties in the law and leave all the difficult questions, as usual, to the courts—who of course are best able to deal with them, but for whom there will be created a great deal of new learning in law. If the House thinks that by passing this Bill it is simplifying the law, it is under a very considerable misconception.

Mr. Mortimer, who, I suppose, is as experienced as anyone in these matters, in an article in the Observer last year, said: The new Divorce Reform Bill which comes up for debate in Parliament next month gives every sign of having been drafted with the aim of pleasing everybody. As a result, if it is enacted in its present form, it may well leave the persons concerned—husbands, wives, children, judges and lawyers—in a greater middle than before. I think that there is great truth in those words.

For those reasons, so long as Clause 1 (1) (b), introducing the new five-year provision for divorce remains, the disadvantages of the Bill far outweigh the advantages. Speaking personally, I should like the Bill to have a Second Reading if there were any chance that the promoters would reconsider the five-year period. I am not against this experiment in divorce by consent after two years, but, having regard to what has been said this morning to the effect that when a Bill gets a Second Reading with such a provision in it it must be assumed that the House has accepted that principle—a view with which I cannot agree, but others take that view—although I should like to see possible improvements in the law provided by the Bill further discussed, if it is to be said that if one does not oppose the Bill one accepts the principle of five-year divorce against the will of the other party, I must vote against the Bill.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I want to make only a couple of short points. When the lawyers in this House disagree among themselves, as they have disagreed this morning, it puts far greater responsibility on those of us who are laymen back-benchers to try to come not only to a considered judgment but a right decision.

I assure my hon. Friends who have sponsored this Bill that, despite my conduct here this morning, I have not been unduly antagonistic towards it. Even at this time I am open to conviction on certain aspects of the Bill, although I must confess to feeling great alarm when I heard the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray), who said that he regarded this as only a transitional Measure. In simpler language, this is the thin end of the wedge—something which can be driven in harder later. That filled me with alarm for I think some of the proposals made by the Bill go much too far already.

It reminded me of the saying we used to have in the newspaper industry about births, marriages and deaths. We used to refer to "hatched, matched and dispatched". That seemed to be the attitude of my hon. Friend towards what many of us regard as the very sacred sacrament of marriage, which is something we should do everything in our power to preserve while recognising that there are difficult circumstances. This is where I have some sort of agreement with the sponsors of the Bill. We all have knowledge of cases in which tremendous hardship is imposed on some people as a result of estrangement and living apart. In the words of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) this is a case of trying to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages, and that is not very easy.

I could not understand the Solicitor-General suggesting that the Government's attitude to this Bill was one of neutrality. I was a Whip for 12 years and I would not have put that interpretation on a Bill for which the Government have provided time. When it comes to a question of what is and what is not right for the House to consider, I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that I could give him examples of three or four Bills waiting at present which are of far greater importance than this Bill. I do not regard this as Government neutrality.

What worries me tremendously about the Bill is that the safeguards are not nearly adequate enough. Whether we like it or not, we as mere men must admit that women need much more protection in the matter of divorce than do men. Women are, generally speaking, the ones who suffer the most. By the very nature of things—the family they have to care for after the husband has deserted them—it is far more difficult for women to face up to the responsbilities which become theirs on desertion. At the end of two or five years if a husband can obtain a divorce and leave his wife stranded, she is in serious trouble.

I am prepared to be convinced on the aspect of financial provision, but there is no safeguard in the Bill. The Solicitor-General's statement that this matter will be looked after in the review which is now taking place in the social services is not sufficient. If anything, it is the soundest possible argument why we should defer consideration of the Bill, because this is the sticking point for me. The Bill contains little or no basic financial provision. I believe that in the courts lawyers will tear this to pieces on the grounds of lack of financial provision.

For these reasons, I suggest that it would be wise for the sponsors of the Bill to agree that it shall be at least deferred for the time being and held in abeyance until we know whether the amended social security provisions are adequate. When we see those provisions we may want to consider whether it is just to impose such financial burdens on the ordinary man who subscribes to the fund. It may not be right to do so. Before deciding whether to give the Bill a Second Reading we need to see what the proposals are.

I imagine that the sponsors of the Bill do not want to lose the Bill. It would be better if they of their own volition withdrew the Bill, if only for the time being, and then with far more information at our disposal shortly after we return from the Recess we may be in a far better position to make a considered judgment and decide on which side the advantages fall most heavily.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)

I have always found it impossible to spend any amount of time with anyone or anything, whether it is a human being or a piece of paper, without getting to know that person or that paper quite well. Having sat with this piece of paper in front of me morning, noon and night last summer, I have come to the conclusion that it is not so much bad as utterly bogus.

I say this because I know that it has attracted a considerable amount of support, by these bold words in Clause 1: the sole ground on which a petition for divorce may be presented to the court by either party to a marriage shall be that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The country has said, "This is modern. This is progressive. This is even what the Church wants".

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) has pointed out very clearly that Clause 2 makes it obvious that the question of marriage breakdown is a myth. That Clause ensures that the majority of marriages will go on being dissolved in future, just as they are now, because of adultery, cruelty or desertion, or, as now, because the husband and the wife agree to call it a day. I admitted on an earlier occasion—I do so again—that the Bill will enable them to do this rather more easily than at present, but there will be no substantial change.

Therefore, the whole of the first page of the Bill, in spite of all the brave words about breakdown of marriage, will make no recognisable difference whatsoever. It will not be marriage breakdown; it will be the matrimonial offence or agreement to part, just as now, which will continue to be the grounds for divorce.

Many years ago the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) introduced a Bill with only one proposal—to make unilateral divorce possible against the will of the respondent after a seven-year separation. I wish that the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) had confined his Bill to this one change, because it is the only major change which the Bill proposes. The Bill could then properly have been called the "Unilateral Divorce Bill", and the House and the country could have judged more easily for or against the single proposition whether it were wise to make divorce possible where, in the words of Clause 2 (1) (e), the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. This paramount issue in this Bill is confused by other proposals, quite welcome in themselves, but by comparison utterly insignificant. For instance, the reconciliation provisions in Clause 3 are welcome, but few of us realistically expect that they will keep alive more than a handful of marriages which are approaching dissolution. Nor are the provisions of Clause 4 or the financial provisions of Clause 6 likely to mitigate the harsher effects of the Bill and especially the effects of unilateral divorce, to which I now return.

Those who support this proposed power of unilateral divorce base themselves conveniently on the principle of marriage breakdown, which is otherwise, as I have tried to show, quite irrelevant to the Bill. I suggest that the whole purpose of its introduction is to form an attractive foundation for this new proposal.

The sponsors of the Bill maintain that five years' separation is unmistakable evidence of marriage breakdown. Can we always be so sure? I know of some- one whose husband went to live with a young girl, leaving her with four children. He was away for some years, certainly more than five. He asked his wife to divorce him. She refused. Two years ago he returned to his wife and they are now living happily together. But the supporters of this proposal are determined that it must be made possible to bring such apparently lifeless marriages to an end, even against the will of the respondent.

They pray in aid, as the hon. Member for Rhondda West and the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn, St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) did, a number of hard cases. Perhaps it is time that some of us who remain profoundly disquieted by this proposal pointed out more clearly than we have done so far that all the hard stories are not on one side. I quote from a letter written by a wife threatened by divorce against her will: I still love my husband very much and still live in hope that one day he may return to us. I can bear being separated, but I could not bear being a divorced woman. I should have nothing left to hope for … while we are separated he is still part of me and is still my husband … I think there should be some changes made, but not in the way where we should be forced into divorce and left with nothing but despair. Wives or husbands who refuse divorce are castigated as petty, spiteful or vindictive. If they do it for religious reasons, they are said to be hopelessly bigoted. The still loving wife who has the courage to hold on to her last, faint hope is thought to be distinctly unsporting. But whether they are vindictive, bigoted or unsporting—and it is ridiculous to apply any of these adjectives to some of the perplexed women most of us have met—rightly or wrongly, but I believe naturally, a large number of women are very frightened.

I do not light frightening ladies, and 10 days ago the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South made things far worse. She was perfectly right about the decline of male charms as we plunge into middle age, but all she succeeded in doing was to terrify the men as well.

This proposal—the one substantial change in the Bill—would do two things: first, it would bring relief, but it would bring pain to many more; secondly, it would relieve hardship, but it would do so at a very heavy price, and the price would be the threat to the security of a large number of marriages which would for the first time become breakable where they had not been breakable before.

The Government have accorded to the hon. Member for Rhondda, West the rare privilege of providing extra time very early in the Session to enable him to make progress with the Bill. I think that most of us felt that the Solicitor-General must have had his tongue in his cheek when he was talking about neutrality. If he did not have his tongue in his cheek, will he answer very seriously the question of what good reason there is for the Government not now taking over the Bill and treating it as a Government Bill?

The true significance of the Government's action is that they have now left behind what has recently been described as the discomfort of sitting on the fence with their ears to the ground. They have at last taken sides, and they want the Bill to become law. They must therefore accept the consequences, and especially the financial consequences, of the Bill.

During almost the whole of the long Committee stage on the previous Bill we had the welcome, benign and courteous presence of the Solicitor-General, but, naturally he was not in a position to answer the wide range of complicated questions which were then asked. He opted out again, very naturally, from answering those questions this morning. But I should like to know why there are not any Ministers beside him from the Department of Social Service, from the Treasury and the Home Office. This time these questions are being asked again.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

indicated assent.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Lady nods. The questions are being asked again and they were forcefully put in the speech which she made 10 days ago when she sounded full of anxiety, although as we know she supports the Bill, about the future if the Bill becomes law.

As the hon. Lady said in her speech, these and other important matters are not for private Members, but for her right hon. Friends, and the difficulties to which she drew attention are certain to be increased by the compulsory divorce for which the Bill provides. The Government, especially now that they have provided time, cannot opt out of their difficulties. They cannot avoid concerning themselves, first, with the new financial obligations which the Bill is to impose on them and, secondly, with the potential hardship which will be suffered and the injustice inflicted if the present provisions are not improved.

It is no longer a Private Member's Bill for which the Government can disclaim responsibility. The Government are actively helping to get it through, and I therefore hope that we shall be assured of two things: first, that the Government clearly recognise the financial and other consequences of making the Bill law; and, secondly, that they accept the obligation to take steps to relieve the hardship which, without their intervention, will certainly be suffered.

1.4 p.m.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

A short time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) made a speech which I thought deeply sincere and deeply emotional when he referred to the institutions of love and honour. I hope that he and everyone else will accept that there are people who genuinely support the Bill, but who still value the institution of marriage as highly as he does, and who will not vote for the Bill under the impression that we are moving towards the permissive society which he fears and which he directly said would result from the Bill and which he hinted to be the aim of at least some of its supporters. I can only say that those are not my motives.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no doubt that there are hon. Members who are most active in their pursuit of the permissive society.

Mr. Dewar

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will compromise and agree that there are at least many people who think that this is a sensible reform and who do not necessarily fall into that category. I hope that we can agree at least about that.

I do not know whether he wants to go back to the pre-1857 situation when divorce was not recognised, at least in general terms, in the law of England. I start from the assumption that there is divorce, that there is a law of divorce, that there is a social case for a law of divorce, and that what Parliament ought to be doing is trying to construct such a law which will face the realities which we see around us in Britain today and which are apt to remain, and which maximises content among ordinary married people in Britain.

There is not necessarily any virtue in the law as it is constituted at the moment and which keeps in being the legal fiction of marriage in conditions from which in fact all moral, ethical, physical or other content has long disappeared. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not regard the Bill as being an attack on the institution of marriage.

It has been said, and the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) put the argument earlier, that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of divorces in this country, but I do not accept from that that in some sort of way we ought to resist change and try to hold our ground. There is always a tendency for the law to be out of touch with what is happening in society. I suppose that it is inevitable that the law always reflects old and not necessarily contemporary values. But if we were to listen to some of the more extreme advice offered in the Chamber today that situation would be aggravated.

The divorce rate has gone up for a number of reasons. I think that the hon. Member for Bootle would be the first to accept that one obvious reason is the availability of legal aid. Another is the very statistical fact that people are marrying younger and that marriages are lasting longer in that people are living longer, which means that more people are at risk. There are many obvious reasons for this increased rate.

Whether the Bill is passed or not, the vast majority of people will continue to enter the state of matrimony under the impression at the time that it is for good. People do not go to a church or registry office—and in this connection I make no distinction—telling themselves that if the marriage does not work, they can always get out of it at some future date. People marry believing their marriage to be permanent, but I do not think that their general attitude will be changed by the Bill.

I believe that the Bill is a contribution to a sane and humane attitude to the law of divorce, and I congratulate the Government on providing time for it. I am not particularly interested in their neutrality on this question, but I am grateful that we have been given the opportunity to consider a matter of major importance, a matter which has been thrashed around debating chambers in society for a long time. Parliament would be making itself a laughing stock if, given this kind of situation, the Government did not provide time to allow some sort of decision to be taken on this issue by Parliament.

I support the Bill because I believe that it will result in reforms in two main theatres. I have long been dissatisfied—and I think that there is a wide measure of support in the House for this view—with a situation in which a divorce could not be obtained unless there was a matrimonial offence. On the whole this is wrong and it has been an invitation to people to produce the evidence necessary to get a divorce. It invites people who have decided that their marriage has not worked and, for reasons of which the House is aware, the increase in number of teenage marriages and so on, more and more people find themselves in this category—to undertake a clandestine and underhand way of trying to fix it so that they can go to the court with the necessary evidence of a matrimonial offence. This can only bring the law into disrepute. It is not a dignified or socially desirable situation, and about that we can all agree.

I know that there are still some hon. Members who think that this proposal is getting too near divorce by consent. This kind of concept of original sin stampedes many people into that position. As has been widely accepted, however, the present situation is divorce by consent if people wish it to be. If we went to the other extreme and took as the only ground for divorce the breakdown of a marriage, the court having established by full inquiry all the circumstances, the situation would still be divorce by consent, because it would be a very brave judiciary which, faced with a difficult issue, would not be prepared to accept the word of both parties that the marriage had irretrievably broken down and that there was absolutely no chance of the parties coming together again. It will be found to be very difficult to get away from divorce by consent, and it has been over-valued in certain quarters.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

The hon. Gentleman talked about divorce by consent and says that this Bill might be that. Is not the whole purpose of Clause 2 (5) divorce without the consent of the other party? The other party has no say in the matter at all.

Mr. Dewar

I referred to the two main questions, and I now move on to the second. The point that I was making was that, with the two years with consent, there is an argument which was hoisted very high indeed. The objection to the Bill was that it was divorce by consent. The hon. Member is quite right. When we get on to the five-year period and the unilateral divorce, we get into much more difficult and complex waters. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) and a large number of others, that this is a matter of balance. It would be very wrong and arrogant, and a horrible oversimplification, to suggest that all the arguments were on one side or the other.

I accept the arguments of the sponsors that we should move in the direction of the Bill. I recognise that we must pay an enormous amount of attention to the financial and social interests, and the feelings of a wife. But there are third parties involved. There are people who can be victimised by the continuance of the legal fiction of a marriage long after it has broken down. Although I accept that there are people who will still be hurt, one can over-estimate the hurt involved.

I believe very strongly that the shock and distress is caused at the moment of desertion, and not at the moment of the law when it recognises, if this Bill goes through, a social fait accompli. It is when one has to face the neighbours and say, in the case of a wife, that one's husband has walked out, when it gets round that one has been deserted for the younger woman or the prettier woman or the more attractive prospect, it is then that one is really hurt and feels bitter.

Whether it is the wife who refuses a divorce out of religious conviction or spite, is to some extent a minor question. What concerns me is that I do not think that, except in the most exceptional cases, the person can really be motivated by a hope of reconciliation. I would certainly feel that, taking all the parties concerned, and weighing it up, and everyone must do this individually, the balance falls, in terms of humanity and justice, in favour of this Bill.

The hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West, said that illegitimate children should be dealt with in some other way by improving their legal status. This is being a little naive, because the public stigma that attaches to illegitimacy will not be removed quickly or easily. Not so long ago in this House we were discussing the law of succession in Scotland and giving to illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate children have. The Conservatives opposed most vigorously an attempt to put legitimate and illegitimate children on the same basis. It is a little facile to say that one can remove the slur and stigma of illegitimacy in this way. This is a matter upon which we have to make up our minds. It is very important that we should have this.

It is perhaps wrong that I should be taking up the time of the House because I represent a Scottish city and this Bill does not extend to Scotland. I excuse myself on the grounds that the issues being debated here and the arguments being used, are extremely relevant to what will happen to Scottish law in the not too distant future. I feel very strongly that it would be wrong and unfair if divorce law north and south of the Border rested upon a completely different social basis. If this Bill gets the kind of Second Reading that I hope it will, and it gets through to the Statute Book, I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to the best, quickest, and most efficient way of getting a suitably amended Scottish Act on to the Statute Book.

As the Bill stands I do not believe that it is the clearest and most convenient way of achieving the necessary reforms. I recommend to the House the recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission. It started on a much more pragmatic basis saying, "Here is a social problem which must be answered." It answered the problem by amending the present matrimonial offences, and adding additional grounds to meet the particular problems, This is a clearer and better way. I am unhappy about the way the whole structure of the divorce law has been demolished and then, most of it, smuggled in by the back door.

This is unfortunate. I very much prefer the suggestion of the Scottish Law Commission, which would have these additional grounds and would do without the plethora of judicial discussions and new definitions which I suspect have been imported into divorce law in this Bill. My plea is that we give this Bill a Second Reading and do it enthusiastically, because socially it is right, and ultimately the legal points can be looked at, I hope sympathetically, in Committee. I very much hope that the Government will remember that there is a law of Scotland that needs reform in the near future.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I am sure that the House will acquit me of discourtesy if my remarks in the attempt that I must now make on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill to meet the arguments which have been employed by those who are opposed to it, appear to be brusque, or too brief. For so long there has been public discussion on this that not even the considerable ingenuity of the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) and the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) have been sufficient in my view, and I think everyone's, to clothe their undoubtedly arresting presentation of their doubts in a novel form.

I do not believe that I can succeed where they have failed. I very much doubt whether anyone can possibly present pristine arguments for or against the Bill. The most controversial section of the Bill, the right of either party to a marriage slain by long separation to obtain a divorce was recommended by a Commission presided over by the first Archbishop of Canterbury of the Protestant Church in 1552. After 416 years of gestation, whatever else may be said, this Bill can hardly be described as one which should be deferred, or which is being given hasty consideration.

The House, despite the faulty recollection of the hon. Member for Chelsea, will know that on three occasions, when the hon. Lady for Flint, East (Mrs. White) put it to the House in 1951, when I put it to the House in 1963 and when the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson) put it to the House in 1967, the House has affirmed the principle by giving the Bill a Second Reading, only to find that its will has been frustrated, by the appointment of a Royal Commission, by procedural strategems in 1963, and by want of time last Session. That want of time occurred after a Committee stage of more than 38 hours.

When the House deals with legislation which impinges on human relationships, all past and some recent history shows that it is often in danger of slipping from what would be regarded as a proper cautiousness to a morbidity, if not prurience which does not enhance its reputation. I do not believe that this House will want to follow the droll examples of past Parliaments, like those who hesitated over the dangers to the institution of marriage if a widower was permitted to marry his dead wife's sister.

On the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill, there were 19 Second Readings in the Commons and 13 in the Lords, but it finally reached the Statute Book in 1907. The institution of marriage survived that shock, even though we still have hon. Members who are the descendants of illicit progeny, because of the dilly-dallying and hesitations of Parliaments of other days. In spite of the false jeremiads of the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) some divorce lawyers and certainly all sociologists know that the Bill comes before the House at a time in our history when marriage has never been more popular. As the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) rightly said, people are marrying younger and living longer. That means that their marriages cover a greater span.

Professor Titmuss has reminded us: Never before in the history of English vital statistics has there been such a high proportion of married women in the female population under the age of 40 and, even more so, under the age of 30. Since 1911, the proportion married at age 15 to 19 has risen nearly fourfold: at age 20 to 24 it has more than doubled. Such figures hardly support the extravagant claims that we are, as the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West suggested, "Surging forward" to a steady deterioration of family life which, he said, has been going on for the last 25 years.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

Do not the figures speak for themselves?

Mr. Abse

Clearly, the hon. and learned Gentleman belongs in that category of Englishmen who are always despondent about their own times. There always have been such lugubrious men, and their joint testimony would show that this country has been going downhill fast since the time of the Norman Conquest.

If one cites the divorce statistics, ignoring the increasing number of marriages in the community, and on average their longer duration, and ignoring the enhanced risks and exporsures which have come, together with the benefits, to wives who, fortunately, today are not serfs, but working partners, one is bound to make a banal assessment of the state of family life. It is quite extraordinary that anyone should pray in aid these divorce statistics and ignore the fact that the main reason why there is now more divorce is that in the past it was available only to the well-to-do.

It is odd that, although we remember with repugnance the grim poverty of the 19th century, and the acute hardship in regions such as those where my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) and myself were brought up, what we too often forget is that there was always, until legal aid was brought into existence, among working people gross marital misery which was attendant upon the lack of divorce facilities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) spoke with his characteristic vigour and sincerity. He reproached the Government because they have made available time for the House to express its will on a considerable number of social reforms. Let him remember that for some of us who are Socialists there are no boundaries to our compassion. We do not limit our compassion to the sick, the unemployed and the disabled. We believe that we should extend it to those who are illegitimate and those who are in deep and distressing marital woe. Therefore, when the Government provide time for every man to make a decision, according to his own conscience, we do not believe that they are departing from the fine principles which we expect to inform a Socialist Government.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I do not doubt my hon. Friend's sincerity and I would go a long way with him in his compassion. My membership of the same organisation should prove that. However, if the Government are so understanding, why did they not sponsor the Bill?

Mr. Abse

It is right that the Government should decide that every member of every party should have the opportunity freely to vote according to his conscience on an issue of this kind. That is what the Government have decided. I believe that in the country even people who oppose the Bill will be glad that there has not been a party dogfight over the Bill but that it is entirely free from party partisanship.

At least the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West was unequivocal in his opposition. He says that our divorce laws are not perfect but that there is not very much wrong with them. For a lawyer, he is taking an eccentric view. As the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee, in its Report entitled "Putting Asunder", says, all the judges and lawyers who gave evidence before it agreed that the law as it stands is unsatisfactory, however much they differed concerning the remedies which should be applied.

However, if the hon. and learned Gentleman's view is eccentric, it is at least blunt. He declares that he will fight the Bill at every stage. So be it. What concerns me is the attitude, overt or implicit, which would once again allow a Second Reading to a Bill in the hope that somewhere along the line that part of it which seeks to deal with a major social problem can either be wrenched away or so whittled down that its practical application, except for the wealthy, becomes improbable.

As I have said on three occasions in recent years, the hopes and expectations of at least 250,000 people who are reluctantly unmarried and who are permanently living together have been raised by very clear votes in the House. All those expectations and hopes have subsequently been dashed. For years following the Second Reading of the 1951 Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East was deluged, as she has often told me, with letters, pleas and reproaches. For five years since the House gave my Bill a Second Reading in 1963 I, too, have been so pursued. Since last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South, like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West, has also been deluged with letters mainly from respectable elderly people desperately anxious to obtain regularisation of their position.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to give the House the true picture concerning his postbag. Would he say how many letters opposing the Bill he has received?

Mr. Abse

My point is that we have come to a decision on three occasions after national debates, and that people who wish to be married parents and who wish their illegitimate children to have married parents have a right to a clear decision. It would be shameful if the House continued to play what these people regard as a cruel cat and mouse game with their deepest needs.

I am aware that the Bill has its blemishes. Each of us doubtless would like to see in the Bill something which stresses his or her psychological prejudice. But the Bill is a compromise. It embodies faithfully the proposals for divorce reform put forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee which were regarded as practicable by the Law Commissioners.

Mr. Worsley

The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill embodies faithfully the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee. He must know that that is quite untrue. That Committee proposed an inquest on each marriage, and that is not provided for in the Bill.

Mr. Abse

I said that the Bill embodied faithfully the proposals put forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee which were regarded as practicable by the Law Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman should know that the Committee met the Law Commissioners and issued an agreed document which is available, as every Member who served on the Standing Committee which considered the previous Bill knows. The Law Commissioners assisted in drafting this Bill which they believed to be not only practicable but which faithfully embodied the agreement reached with the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee.

Although the Bill has blemishes, perhaps because it is a compromise, we cannot talk as if we can start anew, de novo. If I could start afresh in creating our divorce law, I would permit divorce only when it could be shown to be in the interests of the children of the marriage. There are doubtless hon. Members who, if they could start afresh in such circumstances, would put forward their ideas. The fact is that we have behind us centuries of the doctrine of the matrimonial offence, the doctrine which interjects into our divorce law an insistence that when a marriage is dead—

Mr. Peter Mahon

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Abse

No more, I have given way a great deal—it may only be so declared by the courts when one partner has been proved guilty. Thus it follows, as a consequence of the doctrine of the matrimonial offence, that always we have to have the situation that one party must be proved wholly innocent and the other partner must be proved wholly guilty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) has indicated, total innocence and total guilt are rare phenomena.

Precisely because such a doctrine so rarely corresponds to the realities of the marital situation, the present law has become so totally misshapen and so painfully distorted. Because guilt has to be proved, our divorce courts are replete with charades that bring law and the institution of marriage into disrepute.

It is because of this wretched doctrine that the perjuries, the rigged adulteries and the faked desertions masking the mutuality of the original parting, because of which we have the puffed-up allegations of cruelty and the publicised discretion statements, which this Bill gets rid of, discretion statements which mean that children have to face emblazoned abroad the fact that not only their father but their mother, has committed adultery.

Because of the doctrine of the matrimonial offence, judges and lawyers are reduced to the rôle of scavengers having to scrape round for the worst obscenities they can find within a married life and, within the present accusatorial system, hurling all their wretched findings across the courtroom. Issues of maintenance and the welfare of the children are being substantially determined as a consequence of this doctrine by findings of guilt or innocence which are often irrelevant. As a result of this doctrine, public money is being squandered on unnecessarily long defended and cross-petition cases, in which both parties want a divorce but in which the real needs of the parties and of the children are too often smothered under days, if not weeks, of courtroom scenes of bitterness and acrimony which, unfortunately, are frequently then publicised as a consequence of the Press publishing in great detail the judge's summing-up.

The Bill seeks—I admit falteringly, but with a clear general sense of direction—to hack our way out of the jungle of lies, half-truths, miserable strategems and ugly publicising that the ground of the matrimonial offence has proliferated.

The declared substitution in the Bill of the doctrine of matrimonial breakdown means that attention can at least begin—I do not claim any more—to be riveted, not upon punishment, not upon the public branding of alleged sinners, but on the question of whether the marriage can be healed; and if lamentably it cannot be healed, then at least it can be ended by the parties, who, after being apart for two years, could almost privately, with dignity and without public recrimination, see the end of their lamentably dead marriage.

I am convinced that only if we emancipate ourselves from the doctrine of the matrimonial offence can we even begin to move forward, as we will have to do, to considerations of how courts and lawyers can be deployed as marriage menders and not as marriage breakers.

I sometimes feel, after hearing some who have spoken in this debate and having heard some of those who have spoken against the Bill outside, that some people are so attached to regarding divorce as a public display of the battle of the sexes that when divorce reform is mentioned their dearest wish is to pursue the pitched battle in every available public forum. Every proposed change of the law is absurdly represented as a Machiavellian male plot to deprive the right of women, who are ungallantly represented as losing all their attractiveness at the age of 40.

At the risk of appearing to lack chivalry, I am bound to point out that divorce statistics do not confirm the claim of the innocence of womankind. Last year, in the provinces, more husbands divorced wives on grounds of adultery than wives divorced husbands. Infidelity is, alas, or perhaps inevitably, no male monopoly. What is more, marriage statistics certainly do not reflect a picture of unmarriageable middle-aged women.

Between 1941 and 1945, the largest concentration of divorced women remarrying was in the 30 to 44 age group. Now, the greatest concentration of divorced women remarrying is in the over-45 age group. This is part of the general trend which is reflected in the fact that the average age of remarriage of widows has increased from 45 in 1931 to 52 in 1961, and I understand that the trend is continuing.

The fact is that in three out of four marriages ended by divorce, the women fortunately remarry. Middle-aged women today are certainly not prepared to accept the assessment either of shrewish members of their own sex or the conceits of some male Members of this House who would write off a woman at 45. Moreover, the myth—and it is a myth—that middle-aged husbands are manoeurving to discard their wives and children finds no substantiation in the Registrar-General's figures. Apart from the fact that divorce rates are higher for childless couples—in two-thirds of divorces there are either no children or only one child—the most vulnerable point in marriage appears to be in those between five and nine years' duration.

The longer duration marriages of the middle-aged are remarkably stable. As a middle-aged husband with children, that is what I would expect. Middle-aged couples are bound together not by law, but by love. Fortunately for most, it grows through the years as the couples share together the memories of family crises, travail, joys, struggles and concern for the little ones, their defeats and their successes. There is no more ludicrous notion than that it is a secret desire of every middle-aged man to quit the affection and comfort of a home in which a wise wife appreciates his every need and patiently knows his every foible to go swinging for ever with some featherbrained young woman in the local Mecca.

When radically reforming the whole of our divorce law the House should not overlook the change of personal status. The fact that some women would no longer be legal wives may affect a comparatively small number of middle-aged women as a result of the Bill. It cannot however be right that the whole restructuring of the law should be estopped by the dislike of these women that the law should overtly acknowledge that their marriage has long since died.

Certainly, the Bill ensures that their financial 5tatus will at least not be made worse. If it is passed, the Bill will mean that in no country in the whole Commonwealth will greater powers have been given to the judges to ensure that no husband petitioning in the court after being apart five years will have his divorce unless and until, as far as human ingenuity permits, the fairest financial provision available is made for the wife.

The court will have the power, at the very moment of the husband's greatest weakness, when he is a supplicant begging for a divorce, to refuse the decree absolute until, if the court so wishes, he is stripped of half, three-quarters or indeed all his possessions. Within the power given in the Bill, the court can refuse a divorce if the wife would possibly be losing a public pension in the event of the husband dying first, unless a deferred annuity was first purchased by the husband. The court could, if it so wished—and it will have the power—insist that as a precondition of a divorce, in secure form, the husband nominated his wife—not his common law wife—as the beneficiary under a private pension scheme.

I can understand those who fear that the giving of these considerable powers to judges may make the Bill too restrictive. What I cannot understand are those who doubt these powers because they seem to feel that Her Majesty's judges, having metamorphosised themselves into the avant guarde of the permissive society, will not exercise their powers. I have no doubt that if a man is a "basket", he will be treated as a "basket" by the court. There is no question under the Bill of any automatic right to divorce to a man—or woman—if he petitions the court on the ground that he has been living apart from his spouse for five years.

It is true that it may well be easier for a wealthier man to have had two wives, than it will be for a poorer one. There is no novelty in that; it has been going on since Solomon's time. The Bill will not mean that an old-age pensioner who has been living with a woman for 30 years, and, until his retirement made it impossible, paid regular maintenance to his legal wife, perhaps for decades, will necessarily be debarred from getting a divorce. In such a case, when doubtless both the wife and the old-age pensioner will be recipients of supplementary benefits, the judge could grant a divorce though the pensioner could probably pay his wife little or nothing. The sponsors of the Bill are certainly not prepared to pull out words which will mean that we shall be creating one law for the rich and one for the poor.

What the Bill cannot do is to transform Britain into an egalitarian community. What it cannot do is to overhaul the whole National Insurance scheme, though I am pleased to see that it has motivated the Government—as we heard from the Solicitor-General this morning—to undertake a considerable review of the position of divorced wives, and that is a positive achievement.

The Bill cannot do what is to be attempted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop), which is to create some measure of community of property, such as an egalitarian family system demands. It is true, alas, that the Bill cannot mobilise social workers to be attached to the courts to assist in every case where custody of the child is in issue. The Bill cannot initiate the State collection of maintenance so that a wife receives her payments regularly, instead of irregularly. All these things the House will perhaps bring about one day. In the meantime, the Bill affirms its intentions not to have an easier divorce law, but to have a more rational one, one that is more humane, more compassionate, and, in my view, more in keeping with the civilised feelings of our people.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 188, Noes 103.

Division No. 41.] AYES [1.45 p.m.
Abse, Leo Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Nott, John
Albu, Austen Grey, Charles (Durham) Ogden, Eric
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Oram, Albert E.
Allen, Scholefield Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Orbach, Maurice
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Orme, Stanley
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Hamling, William Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Hannan, William Palmer, Arthur
Barnett, Joel Harper, Joseph Park, Trevor
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Haseldine, Norman Parker, John (Dagenham)
Beaney, Alan Hay, John Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hazell, Bert Pavitt, Laurence
Bessell, Peter Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Bidwell, Sydney Heffer, Eric S. Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Bishop, E. S. Henig, Stanley Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Herbison, Rt. Hn, Margaret Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Booth, Albert Hilton, W. S. Price, William (Rugby)
Boston, Terence Hobden, Dennis Probert, Arthur
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hooson, Emlyn Quennell, Miss J. M.
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hornby, Richard Randall, Harry
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Rees, Merlyn
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Richard, Ivor
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Huckfield, Leslie Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Roebuck, Roy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Rose, Paul
Cant, R. B. Hunt, John Royle, Anthony
Carlisle, Mark Hunter, Adam Ryan, John
Carmichael, Neil Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Chapman, Donald Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Sheldon, Robert
Coe, Denis Jeger,Mrs.Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.) Short, Mrs. René e (W'hampton,N.E.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Sinclair, Sir George
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Spriggs, Leslie
Dalkeith, Earl of Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Judd, Frank Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Davies, Harold (Leek) Kenyon, Clifford Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Swingler, Stephen
Dewar, Donald King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Lestor, Miss Joan
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Thornton, Ernest
Dickens, James Lipton, Marcus Urwin, T. W.
Dobson, Ray Lubbock, Eric Varley, Eric G.
Doig, Peter Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Vickers, Dame Joan
Donnelly, Desmond McCann, John Wallace, George
Dunnett, Jack MacColl, James Watkins, David (Consett)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Macdonald, A. H. Weitzman, David
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Mackie, John Wellbeloved, James
Eadie, Alex McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Whitaker, Ben
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mapp, Charles White, Mrs. Eirene
Ellis, John Marks, Kenneth Whitlock, William
Emery, Peter Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Ennals, David Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Ensor, David Mayhew, Christopher Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Millan, Bruce Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Faulds, Andrew Miller, Dr. M. S. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Finch, Harold Milne, Edward (Blyth) Winnick, David
Fisher, Nigel Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Molloy, William Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moonman, Eric Woof, Robert
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Younger, Hn. George
Forrester, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Fowler, Gerry Morris, John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Freeson, Reginald Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. Daniel Awdry and
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Murray, Albert Mr. Peter M. Jackson.
Cordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Newens, Stan
Alldritt, Walter Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Doughty, Charles
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Dunn, James A.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Chichester-Clark, R. Eden, Sir John
Bence, Cyril Coleman, Donald Errington, Sir Eric
Biggs-Davison, John Cooke, Robert Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Black, Sir Cyril Corfield, F. V. Fortescue, Tim
Body, Richard Costain, A. P. Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cullen, Mrs. Alice Galpern, Sir Myer
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Cunningham, Sir Knox Gibson-Watt, David
Bullus, Sir Eric Currie, G. B. H. Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan
Glover, Sir Douglas McNair-Wilson, Patrick Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maddan, Martin Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Goodhew, Victor Maginnis, John E. Speed, Keith
Cower, Raymond Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Stodart, Anthony
Grant, Anthony Marten, Neil Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Grant-Ferris, R. Maude, Angus Summers, Sir Spencer
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mawby, Ray Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Monro, Hector Taylor,Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Hawkins, Paul Montgomery, Fergus Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel More, Jasper Tuck, Raphael
Holland, Philip Murton, Oscar Waddington, David
Hutchison, Michael Clark Nicholls, Sir Harmar Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Iremonger, T. L. Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Weatherill, Bernard
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Jeger, George (Goole) Page, Graham (Crosby) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Wilkins, W. A.
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Langford-Holt, Sir John Percival, Ian Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Pink, R. Bonner Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Pounder, Rafton Worsley, Marcus
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wylie, N. R.
Loveys, W. H. Price, David (Eastleigh)
McAdden, Sir Stephen Prior, J. M. L. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McGuire, Michael Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Mr. Simon Mahon and
Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Mr. Kenneth Lewis.
Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Scott-Hopkins, James

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 106.

Division No. 42.] AYES [1.51 p.m.
Abse, Leo Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lestor, Miss Joan
Albu, Austen Ellis, John Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Emery, Peter Lipton, Marcus
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ennals, David Lubbock, Eric
Allen, Scholofield Ensor, David Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) McCann, John
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Faulds, Andrew MacColl, James
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Finch, Harold Macdonald, A. H.
Barnett, Joel Fisher, Nigel Mackie, John
Beaney, Alan Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mapp, Charles
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marks, Kenneth
Berry, Hn. Anthony Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Bessell, Peter Forrester, John Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J
Bidwell, Sydney Fowler, Gerry Mayhew, Christopher
Bishop, E. S. Freeson, Reginald Millan, Bruce
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Booth, Albert Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Boston, Terence Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Molloy, William
Braine, Bernard Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Moonman, Eric
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hamling, William Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hannan, William Morris, John (Aberavon)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Haseldine, Norman Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hay, John Murray, Albert
Newens Stan
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hazell, Bert Nott, John.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Ogden, Eric
Cant, R. B. Heffer, Eric S. Oram, Albert E.
Carlisle, Mark Henig, Stanley Orbach, Maurice
Carmichael, Neil Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Orme, Stanley
Chapman, Donald Hilton, W. S. Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Coe, Dennis Hobden, Dennis Palmer, Arthur
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hooson, Emlyn Park, Trevor
Crawshaw, Richard Hornby, Richard Parker, John (Dagewham)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Dalkeith, Earl of Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Pavitt, Laurence
Dalyell, Tarn Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Huckfield, Leslie Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrsh re, S.) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Price, William (Rugby)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Hunt, John Probert, Arthur
Dickens, James Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Dobson, Ray Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Rees, Merlyn
Doig, Peter Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Richard, Ivor
Donnelly, Desmond Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Ridley, Hn Nicholas
Dunnett, Jack Johnson-Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Roebuck, Roy
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Judd, Frank Rose, Paul
Eadie, Alex Kenyon, Clifford Royle, Anthony
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Ryan, John
Sharples, Richard Thomson, Rt. Hn. George Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Thornton, Ernest Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Sheldon, Robert Urwin, T. W. Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Short, Mrs. René e (W'hampton, N.E.) Van Straubenzee, W. R. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Varley, Eric G. Winnick, David
Sinclair, Sir George Vickers, Dame Joan Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Snow, Julian Wallace, George Woof, Robert
Spriggs, Leslie Watkins, David (Consett) Younger, Hn. George
Steel, David (Roxburgh) Weitzman, David
Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Whitaker Ben TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. White, Mrs. Eirene Mr. Daniel Awdry and
Swingler, Stephen Whitlock, William Mr. Peter M. Jackson.
Alldritt, Walter Grant, Anthony Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Grant-Ferris, R. Page, Graham (Crosby)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Bence, Cyril Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Blggs-Davison, John Hawkins, Paul Percival, Ian
Black, Sir Cyril Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Pink, R. Bonner
Body, Richard Holland, Philip Pounder, Rafton
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hunter, Adam Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hutchison, Michael Clark Price, David (Eastlegh)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Iremonger, T. L. Prior, J. M. L.
Bullus, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pym, Fancis
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Jeger, George (Goole) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Chichester-Clark, R. Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Scott-Hopkins, James
Cooke, Robert Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Corfield, F. V. Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Costain, A. P. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Speed, Keith
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Loveys, W. H. Stodart, Anthony
Cunningham, Sir Knox McAdden, Sir Stephen Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Currie, G. B. H. McGuire, Michael Summers, Sir Spencer
Dance, James Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Cromity) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Dempsey, James Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Doughty, Charles McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, [...]) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Dunn, James A. Maddan, Martin Tuck, Raphael
Eden, Sir John Maginnis, John E. Waddington, David
Elliott,R.W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Weatherill, Bernard
Errington, Sir Eric Marten, Neil Wells, John (Maidstone)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maude, Angus Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Wilkins, W. A.
Fortescue, Tim Mawby, Ray Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Fraser, Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Galpern, Sir Myer Monro, Hector Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Gibson-Watt, David Montgomery, Fergus Worsley, Marcus
Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan More, Jasper
Glover, Sir Douglas Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Nicholls, Sir Harmar Mr. Simon Mahon and
Goodhew, Victor Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Mr. Kenneth Lewis.
Gower, Raymond
Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
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