HC Deb 12 June 1969 vol 784 cc1990-2073
Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 4, line 36, leave out 'or the best that can be made in the circumstances'. To make this point intelligible it is necessary for me to read subsection (2)(b): … the court shall not make absolute the decree of divorce unless it is satisfied— (a) that the petitioner should not be required to make any financial provision for the respondent —that is to say, the financial provision has already been taken care of— or (b) 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. There has been unanimous objection to that provision from the women's organisations, or at any rate all those with which I have been in touch. They feel very strongly about it, particularly about the harshness of the language and its almost insulting tone. The phrase serves no good purpose. What it says, as a matter of English language, if I may paraphrase, is, that the financial provision made by the petitioner for the respondent is reasonable and fair or that it is not reasonable or fair but is the best that can be made in the circumstances. I have never seen anything like that in a statute. If we delete these words and the provision is reasonable and fair—that is to say, if it is the best that can be made in the circumstances—it is the only reasonable and fair thing that can be done. But to suggest quite deliberately to those who read the provision that they will be given some provision which is neither reasonable nor fair is utterly wrong.

We have discussed this point three or four times. I have had many very pleasant discussions with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I do not think we have ever had an acrid discussion. Usually he produces a pretty good answer, sometimes an ingenious answer with which I do not agree, but it is always well done and it is almost always reasonable in its way. But even he has never been able to get this one across, certainly to me or to anyone else to whom I have ever talked on the subject. I have had scores of letters about these words. I have never talked to any organisation or any meeting of ladies at which this point has not been raised. They regard it as disgraceful and disgusting. I have heard very strong language used about it. Whoever drafted it, even if it were the Archangel Gabriel, it is wrong and should be deleted.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I again join with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) in urging that something be done to improve the drafting of this part of the Bill. If the words … reasonable and fair or the best that can be made in the circumstances appeared in any other Measure affecting the citizen, they would be disregarded by the whole House with complete unanimity. A change would be demanded. One knows from experience that … the best that can be made in the circumstances could, in some cases, mean a woman, a sick man or a child being left in a state of poverty and utter neglect. I feel certain that the Government have had a great deal to do with the Bill, and I urge them to redraft this provision.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Would the hon. Gentleman say what he considers would be reasonable and fair in the case of, for example, a wife whose husband is serving a long prison sentence? This is not an academic question because I have had to face a situation of this kind on behalf of a constituent. Might not the provision as at present drafted prove useful in this type of case?

Mr. Mahon

I admit that such a case had not occurred to me when I first considered the matter. I suppose that, even when divorce is not threatened, a woman whose husband is in goal is in a difficult plight. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter because the inequality which arises when families are split in this way—when the husband is in goal—must be remedied.

I hope that the Government will now explain what they have in mind in connection with subsection (2), because they must be involved and there must have been discussions between them and the sponsors. I have been in local government for many years and an hon. Member for 15 years. Social problems like this can be solved only with financial assistance from the Government. Is the … best that can be made in the circumstances meant to cover the individual's circumstances alone, or his or her circumstances plus the second wage packet, as it were, to which we are entitled from the State and to which we all contribute?

I cannot understand the shyness of the Government in this matter. While I do not expect them to regard me with greater favour than any of my hon. Friends—indeed, after tonight I may be regarded in a lesser light than at any time during my association with the movement—I feel justified in asking them to state their position over the Bill and to say what negotiations took place on the top floor of this building between people in high places in another place and others in an effort to iron out the problem which we are discussing.

9.30 a.m.

We have a right to know what the Government's intention is about this. It is not good enough to put a man or woman or children into this obscure and difficult position in which someone can say, "This is the best we can do". You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, probably remember other days when we appealed for justice and wages for impoverished people. We remember the days when boards of guardians in West Derby and elsewhere said, "This is the best we can do". That sort of wording should have disappeared from our legislation. I am delighted to add my support for the Amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

This is one of the parts of the Bill that we have lived with for two years, and we have had many discussions on it. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will remember that we spent long periods on it in Committee last year. It is part of the five-year rule of the Bill which is the sticking point for many of us who would be glad to accept the Bill and who see the necessity for reform in this field. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Pontypool and the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) have not at least offered some concession on this matter.

It seems a contradiction of "fair and reasonable" to tag on the best that can be made in the circumstances. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said, if the court takes account of the last part of the provision, it can be doing a disservice and making it impossible to be fair and reasonable. It is important that the promoters should consider the relationship of these words to the context of the whole subsection. The subsection sets out what has to be considered: age, health, conduct, earning capacity, financial resources and financial obligations. It does not lay down anything about future financial advantage to the party concerned.

It could be that at a given date the party seeking divorce would be likely to come into a legacy. He or she might be a beneficiary under a trust and might have a certain amount of modest resources affected by the market at that time. The dividends that party was getting on that day might bear no relation to those received a year or two years before. It may be just the time when the income is down. The court may know perfectly well that it is a temporary situation and that two years, or even six months, afterwards the income of the individual will be likely to go up again. None of these things can be taken into account because of the phrase the best that can be made in the circumstances". The circumstances on the day of the divorce hearing come before the court.

Sir L. Heald

There may be nothing in the "kitty" on that day.

Mr. Lewis

As my right hon. and learned Friend says, there may be nothing in the "kitty" on that day, but there may be very near future possibilities.

A person who is seeking a divorce and wants to avoid his financial obligations can ensure that at that day he has no financial resources or that he has only the minimum of financial resources. Yet the court must disregard this. If the court were simply to have to take into account "reasonable and fair" it could not disregard any jiggery-pokery. It would have to consider the situation in the long-term as well as in the short-term, for the future as well as for the present. If the last part of paragraph (b) is retained, it will be possible for anybody who seeks to cheat to do so with impunity.

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Gentleman seems to be confining his attention to that part of subsection (2) which refers to financial resources, but a little earlier the subsection says that "all the circumstances" are to be considered. If the person concerned was about to receive a legacy, or if it was known that the dividend on his shares was to be increased, that would be one of the circumstances which the court would take into account in addition to his financial resources at that date.

Mr. Lewis

I accept that the Clause defines circumstances as "all the circumstances". The impact of the term "all the circumstances" is destroyed by the words or the best that can be made in the circumstances". As I see it, those words are an instruction to the court to take into account what it can see the circumstances are on the day. This is the difficulty we have been in from the beginning. It has been argued that the respondent may be in prison. It would be right for the court to take into account the situation of the man as he is in prison. If the man was serving a two-year or three-year sentence and was to come out to a fortune, the court should not take into account only the fact that he is in prison. It is not unknown for people to come out from gaol and be very flush, not necessarily on the proceeds of the offence that has landed them in gaol. If in the case of a divorce the woman is suffering all the disadvantages of the divorce as well as the disadvantage of having had her husband in gaol and the odium attaching to her as well as to her husband from that fact, it is right that she should have the advantage of a right financial arrangement related to what the husband's position will be when he comes out of prison, not related to the position at the day of the hearing.

Mr. Waddington

Is not the right answer that the man in gaol, the guilty party who, as a result of his being in gaol, is unable to maintain his innocent wife, is not deserving of our support and help and is not deserving of a divorce? Why should we put ourselves out for him?

Mr. Lewis

That is another point of view, and I accept it.

It is clear—we have argued this time out of number—that the court will be in extreme difficulty when it has to seek a financial arrangement for the woman in the divorce if it has to take into account the words the best that can be made in the circumstances". We cannot disregard the situation in which, after two years, we are still placed in arguing the Bill when we do not yet know what the Government's financial arrangements are. There are two kinds of financial arrangement. One kind are those that can easily be made and defined by the court because someone happens to have behind him a certain amount of private income, a good salary or the promise of a very satisfactory pension. But in most divorce cases which come before the courts, if the Bill goes through—I believe that there will be a large number of divorce cases and that the numbers will increase—people will depend upon what the Government are able to do. We believe that this will mean considerable expenditure and will add a cost to the social services. It will be a new arm of the social services. Indeed, it would not be right that the Bill should go through if the Government were not prepared to back their support of the Bill with their financial support to those who will be affected by it.

The courts will, therefore, have to take into account what the Government are doing financially; but we do not yet know. Will the courts know? When will they know? We are in the position that we have to pass the Bill completely in the dark. I am not sure that the Solicitor-General is not in the dark. I have an idea that in his discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer his right hon. Friend has given him a clear indication that he has no money available. The Chancellor has said to him, "At the moment, I can give you no definite answer on any arrangements that can be made within the agreement of the Treasury."

If that is so, the Solicitor-General should say so to the House, and particularly to those who are sponsoring the Bill. He should make it clear that there can be no financial support by the Government or that their financial support will depend upon a continuing and permanent improvement in our balance of trade figures and an easier budgetary situation.

Whatever is the position, two matters are important for the courts: the financial position of the individual and the financial support that is likely to be proposed by the Government. In my view, it is right and proper that the words "in the circumstances" should be left out and that the court should make its arrangement only on the basis of what is fair and reasonable.

9.45 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

In my view, there is a case to be made for the words or the best that can be made in the circumstances. I appreciate what the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said: that, approached in a certain manner and spoken with a certain nuance, the words appear, perhaps, to introduce a somewhat undesirable tone. There is, however, a perfectly legitimate objective in them.

The way I ask the House to consider the point is this. If the financial provision made is the best that can be made in the circumstances, it is likely, on that hypothesis, that the court will ordinarily hold it to be reasonable and fair.

The danger, it has always seemed to me—I tried to argue this case in Committee—of omitting the words or the best that can be made in the circumstances is that, without them, the court might be led to hold that, if a petitioner had done all in his power but nevertherless had provided the respondent with less than she needed, the decree could not be made absolute. That is the serious argument which I put, especially in response to the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is really no case to be made for these words at all.

If the consequence of omitting those words is, or might be, as I have adumbrated it, that would, in effect, be to introduce one law for the rich and another for the poor, an outcome which no hon. Member on either side would desire. For the record, the point was made, I venture respectfully to say, with the greatest clarity and force in our consideration of the question in Committee by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), whom I do not see here this morning.

I turn now to the larger issue which was raised by several hon. Members both on this Amendment and on an earlier one, when the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) anticipated, as it were, at least some of the factors which arise here. I fully appreciate that the question of the best financial provision which can be made in the circumstances is one which should be judged in the context, so far as it can fairly and properly be made known to the House, of the wider issue of financial provision and the Government's intentions. I recognise the importance of that, and I wish to recapitulate what the position is in that regard. There has not been a substantial change in the matter since I last enunciated it. But my submission is that what we have to say regarding financial provision has weight and substance, by which I mean that it constitutes something which well deserves the attention of the House.

Under this head, I recapitulate that the Law Commission has told my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that it expects that its report on financial provision will be made available by July, and that it will be recommending the extension of the court's powers to award secured provision and lump-sum payments, to order the settlement of the property of the spouses for the benefit of themselves and the children, and to vary those settlements. The House would not expect me to make a commitment under this head before we have the report. Naturally, no commitment can be made at this stage, but my noble Friend has every hope of being able to introduce legislation to implement these proposals next Session. If that can be done it is his intention, should the present Bill become law, not to bring it into force under Clause 11 until such legislation has been introduced. He has made this plain.

The account I have given is one of substantial preparations being made under this all-important head. It would not be fair to disparage the extent to which the Government are going in their effort to inform the House about the true situation under this head. What we are doing—and we are doing it because we think it right to do it and because we think it is of service to the House—is to let the House know what we expect to be the content of a report of the Law Commission which we have not yet received. We are letting the House know the type of provision that we may expect will be recommended, and we are giving the assurance that although there cannot be a commitment as to future legislation, these matters will be the subject of legislation in the next Session. That is what my noble Friend has said. In addition, he has said—and he has been criticised for this in a fashion that is quite unfair to him—that the Bill will not be implemented under the provisions for bringing it into effect until that legislation from the Law Commission has been introduced.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

In view of what my hon. and learned Friend has now said, is not he prepared to agree that this is putting the cart before the horse? Will he inform the House whether the moneys in question are to come from social security? Has an estimate been made of how much it will involve?

The Solicitor-General

I have always taken the view on this matter that the kind of criticism that has been levelled against us for the way in which these proposals are put forward can only be logically pursued to the point where it is said that it is unwise to do anything by way of reform of the divorce laws unless one makes one's change in the law in a Measure dealing compendiously not only with divorce and judicial separation as such but with financial provisions—the whole field of social security provisions and matrimonial property provisions. That is the logical outcome of this line of criticism. Hon. Members would probably agree with this. It may be that there is a sound argument for that point of view.

We put the rate of progress of social reform into great jeopardy and peril if we require too great and compendious treatment of these matters. Let me illustrate that. I mentioned, among the matters that should be treated compendiously, the matter of matrimonial property. That is now the subject of a study by the Law Commission. It is a very complex subject which lawyers on both sides will recognise. It will not be possible for legislation under that heading to be introduced next Session, because I do not expect that the researches of the Commission, although proceeding, can achieve a result within the time that such a programme would require. If hon. Members call upon the Government to indulge in this degree of compendious treatment of these matters, they must pay the price of delaying the substantial reform. That is how I put the case. I invite the House to consider it. There is a good deal of substance and sense in it.

Mrs. Knight

The hon. and learned Gentleman—

Mr. David Mitchell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the Solicitor-General was giving way to me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That was not the impression that the Chair got.

The Solicitor-General

I am sorry that I did not make it clear. I was giving way and the hon. Gentleman was the first in the queue.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the operation of this legislation would be held up pending the introduction of further legislation following the report of the Law Commission. Am I to understand that it is only the introduction and not the passing of the legislation, because there is a substantial difference? The House ought to know whether it was a slip of the tongue.

The Solicitor-General

I trust that on a matter of that kind I would not be guilty of a slip of the tongue, although I know how easy it is to do that sort of thing. I did mean "introduce."

Hon. Members


The Solicitor-General

Yes. This is the position. My noble Friend will not make the order to implement the Bill before the House until the financial provisions Bill coming from the Law Commission has been introduced. I cannot help feeling that the critics of my hon. Friend's Bill, on financial matters, are falling into the fault of trying to have things both ways.

10.0 a.m.

When my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor indicates that he would not wish to make an order under Clause 11(3) until after the Bill dealing with the financial provisions, expected from the Law Commission, has been introduced, he is criticised for taking upon himself greater responsibility as regards the timing of implementation of Parliament's declared policies in a manner that is undesirable. Yet if this Bill is considered without the kind of safeguard he has offered, it is said that it leaves the financial position in a wholly unsatisfactory state.

The critics cannot have it both ways. We have gone a very considerable distance to indicate as far as we properly can what is likely to be the character of the legislation to be introduced in regard to the financial provisions. I repeat that, to meet some of the objections—and perhaps the greater part—levelled against us it would be necessary to resort to a compendious Measure, including divorce, judicial separation, matrimonial property, financial provision and social security, and the price we should have to pay in practical terms would be a substantial deferment of the reform.

It is for the House to consider whether there is substance in that objection to such a course but the Government think that it is a true objection and that it is desirable that the House should come to a decision upon this matter in the context that we can offer—and it is a context which I have fully explained.

Let the House bear in mind that we are discussing a matter not in vacuo; far from it, because not only have we told the House what the future intentions are and the kind of time programme we envisage but this discussion is also taking place in the context of two successive Bills receiving Second Readings in successive Sessions and going through two prolonged Committee stages.

The matter derives, among other sources, from the Archbishops' Committee and from the work of the Law Commission. Whatever the critics may say, I suggest that the Bill comes before the House founded upon most careful and sustained research, long experience—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is drifting into the merits of the Bill itself. We cannot discuss the Bill at the moment:

The Solicitor-General

I acknowledge the correctness of that Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Dan Jones

I put three points to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and he has answered but one. We are entitled to know whether the financial provisions of this Clause, which he estimates will be considerable, will come from social security and, if so, whether any estimation of the sum involved has been made.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is early in the morning. We could have little less noise. Mrs. Knight.

Mrs. Knight

With the greatest respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, I have never heard a poorer argument advanced from the Front Bench. His customary bite and lucidity have been entirely lacking today. I can only put it down to the labours of the last 12 hours. Some of us who have been here, as I have myself, for almost all of the 12 hours may be feeling the effects of this, too.

The fact that the Solicitor-General, on whose answers so many people outside and inside the House today depend, has been so rambling in his remarks, doubtless because of fatigue, underlies the difficulties to which the House has been subjected because of the incredible time at which we are forced to debate the Bill.

The Solicitor-General said at one stage that if the Amendment were to be accepted and these words were to be left out, there would be one law for the rich and another for the poor. But that is precisely what the Bill does, and the extension achieved by the Amendment alters that situation not one whit.

At one stage, if I understood him correctly, the Solicitor-General said that with the words "or the best that can be made in the circumstances" in the Bill the court would understand that there had to be reasonable and fair arrangements. In the first part of paragraph (b) it is said that the financial provision shall be reasonably fair. The whole point of the Amendment and the words that it seeks to leave out is that they qualify the earlier Amendment. Either it is reasonable and fair, or it is the best that can be done in the circumstances.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Does my hon. Friend not appreciate that what the Solicitor-General has said is that he accepts that the Bill provides for the supplicant something that is reasonable and fair if the individual has private means and a private income, and that the other provision has been tacked on to the end? What would be fairer would be to have a Bill under whose provisions the Government had to provide the means. That is why a Treasury Minister sits alongside the Solicitor-General, to make sure that he does not give the game away.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a speech. Interventions must be brief, not second speeches.

Mrs. Knight

I take my hon. Friend's point. I shall not comment on it further since he made the point clearly.

What the Minister is saying this morning is, "Yes, it is right that this puts the cart before the horse." But he intends to make the cart wait until the horse gallops round the shafts and gets in front. This is quite extraordinary.

It is well known that it is felt, both in the House, and outside it, that we are not being given real promises at all, but sops. If there were real concern about the financial position of a divorced wife, the Bill could easily have been held back until the social benefits had been provided. It is absurd to say that the House must come to a decision when the "bull" point on which the House might come to a decision is withheld and the situation is not known.

Mr. Maddan

Did my hon. Friend comprehend from the Solicitor-General's remarks the possibility that the Bill envisaged for next Session may have to amend the present Bill before the House, to which apparently we are now having to run up a flag as if all depended on it?

Mrs. Knight

Yes. This was one of the conclusions that one drew from the rather rambling and not in the least helpful speech of the Solicitor-General. The reason some of us feel so strongly about the Amendment is that all along the sponsors have made no attempt to meet the well-known objections of large sections of the population, of which this is one of the more clearly expressed.

The sponsors know perfectly well that this is the second point—paragraph (e) is the first—about which people are desperately concerned, but they have not come one inch of the way towards meeting the worries being expressed in this House and outside.

With these words in the Clause, the best that can be made may be extremely poor. It may be utterly disastrous. Certainly, we can all visualise circumstances where the new wife has several children and the old wife who is perhaps 50-plus, has children who are all grown up. The best that most men earning an average income could arrange in those circumstances would probably mean that the forcibly divorced wife was left in virtual penury.

We heard about the prisoner—let us call him Convict 99. He was introduced by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who is not now present. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are the Liberals?".] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) paused in mid-speech, as it were, to accept that there was a case perhaps for the prisoner which he had not thought about too much. We then had Convict 99 brought up by two other hon. Members. I cannot see how Convict 99 comes into this matter at all. If he is incarcerated, surely he is not likely to contract another marriage—[Interruption.] Even if he does contract another marriage—and I know that it may be possible—he will not be earning much money. But we are not arguing about a deserted wife have half of nothing. This is not the normal course of the argument. It would merely be a question of which wife would draw National Assistance, and that is outside the terms of the debate.

One final important point in this context concerns pensions about which nothing has been said by the Solicitor-General. I went along to pick up my mail at half past eight this morning. Among the letters that I received was one from a lady raising this very point. She writes: In April this year, at the age of 67, I was given my old age pension. She had explained earlier in the letter that her husband had left her. What I want to know is what will happen to me should my husband decide to divorce me. I am the innocent one. Shall I lose my pension? We have not heard anything about pensions. Some of us would like to know whether the best that can be made in the circumstances will mean that the new wife will have the pension and the old wife will not. At all events, leaving out these words highlights that Parliament feels that the respondent has a right to reasonable and fair treatment. If these words are in, it is quite clear that Parliament feels that not only should the respondent be able to be divorced against her will, but, if she is left in penury, it will not worry the House of Commons very much.

Mr. Abse

Unless I intervene the hon. Lady will not hear my reply to her speech, since she makes speeches and does not wait for the answers.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief and must relate to the subject matter of the debate.

Mr. Abse

To help the hon. Lady with her correspondent, may I point out that that woman would receive her pension immediately if she was divorced. Indeed, on such facts as the hon. Lady has given, it may be that it would be increased because she would not now have the pension as a wife. She would get a retirement pension, which would be an increased amount. Therefore, before the hon. Lady jumps to a conclusion, perhaps she will make inquiries, as she may be giving bad advice and taking money away from the lady if she does not allow her husband to divorce her.

Mrs. Knight

I was not making an observation; I was asking a question. If the hon. Gentleman will not be quite so hypocritical in the way that he says he is trying to help, that would be a help to me. I have been here for as much of the night as he has. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman feels that he must interrupt like that. I was just coming to a conclusion. I did not jump to any conclusion. I asked a question. I did not give any advice, I sought it.

I want to raise just one other matter which is worrying me, and it is relevant to what we are discussing. The whole point about the Amendment is that if Parliament removes these words it is stressing that the respondent has a right to reasonable and fair treatment, and if it leaves them in she is not.

10.15 a.m.

Dame Irene Ward

I am glad that at last the Solicitor-General intervened. In view of what was said in Committee, it would have facilitated our discussion if the hon. and learned Gentleman had intervened a little earlier than he did. I had hoped that between the time of the sending of the Lord Chancellor's letter to the sponsors of the Bill in Committee and the Report stage in the House the Solicitor-General would have been able to tell us a great deal more about what the Lord Chancellor had in mind.

I think that it would help if the Lord Chancellor's letter were published in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because many hon. Members who have taken part in these discussions were not members of the Standing Committee, and, therefore, have not seen the original letter which committed the Lord Chancellor to some action before the Bill became law. I want to repeat what I said in Committee. It may be that the Lord Chancellor will not be there, and I hope that he will not.

If the Amendment is not accepted, such safeguard as there is in the Bill will no longer be there. There will be no safeguard unless these words are removed. In her previous, very interesting, speech my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) read the letter which she had received from the Overseas Service pensioners. That letter referred to the law as it is today. It did not give any indication of what the position would be under the new law of the wife who had been divorced against her will. This emphasises again what most of us have been saying, that once again, as with the Abortion Act, the whole situation has been badly prepared, badly thought out, and that it will be disastrous for those whose interests we wish to protect.

As many of us believe that some provision should be made to deal with marriages which have irretrievably broken down, it would have been very much simpler if that had been dealt with now, and the more controversial issues left until we had received the report of the Law Commission, following which the Lord Chancellor will be in a position to let the House know what the legislation is going to be for the future. That would have been quite easy, and it would have simplified the position. There would then not have been all this controversy and tremendous anxiety throughout the country.

I wish to read out a list of the women's organisations which are supporting my right hon. and learned Friend. The attitude of some hon. Members is monstrous in ignoring the vast body of responsible women who have taken a great deal of trouble to look into this matter and who wish the House of Commons to pay attention to their representations. It was delightful of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston to refrain from taking up the time of the House in reading out the list of these organisations, but I think it important that occasionally the time of the House should be occupied so that the House can note the important bodies that support the view which was put forward by my right hon. and noble Friend.

Sir L. Heald

I am not noble.

Dame Irene Ward

I beg my right hon. and learned Friend's pardon. He may be noble one day; one never knows.

The list is as follows: The Association of Inner Wheel Clubs, the British Federation of University Women, the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Disablement Income Group, the Educational Centres Association, the Family Planning Association, the Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland, the Health Visitors Association, the Institutional Management Association, the Medical Women's Federation, the National Association for Mental Health, the National Association of Women Pharmacists, the National Association of Women's Clubs.

The National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the National Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations, the National Labour Women's Advisory Committee, the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations (Women's National Advisory Committee), the National Union of Townswomen's Guilds, the National Women Citizens' Association, the Nursery School Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Nursing and National Council of Nurses in the United Kingdom, the St. John Ambulance Association, the St. John Ambulance Brigade (Nursing Corps Division), the Salvation Army, the Toc H. Women's Association, the Trades Union Congress, Women's Advisory Committee; the Women's Advisory Council on Solid Fuel, the Women's Gas Federation—[Laughter.] I can assure hon. Members that women use gas very effectively on many occasions. The list also contains the Women's Liberal Federation and the Young Women's Christian Association.

The resolution to which my hon. Friend referred was also supported by 165 local standing conferences. With some parliamentary experience behind me, I feel that we have never had such a large body of women's opinion representing all sections of national life.

Mr. Dan Jones

I hope that the House appreciates that the only women who have not supported the resolution are the Conservative women [HON. MEMBERS: "They have."] I beg pardon.

Dame Irene Ward

I am sorry to have to repeat myself, but I read out the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations (Women's National Advisory Committee).

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has withdrawn.

Dame Irene Ward

All I am saying is that in my Parliamentary recollection, although there have always been bodies of all kinds supporting various Bills that have been brought before the House, I do not remember such a representative body of women. This tottering Government are very keen about the stability of family life—at least, the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) is—and the stability of family life is represented in these organisations and they should pay some heed to them. The trouble with this Government is that they think that they know everything and do not want advice. The women of the country do not want this Clause, giving unilateral divorce, and they are the ones who will mainly be affected.

We are entitled to know what the Lord Chancellor will do. The Solicitor-General speaks in rounded terms, in a very nice voice but when he has finished we do not really know what he has been talking about. That is disastrous for the Bill. I hope that, at the last gasp, the Government will listen to reason. I have given up on the hon. Member for Pontypool, who is terrified of giving way because he does not know the answers to the questions which he will be asked. I wanted to have a go at him because he had a most unfair go at one of my hon. Friends. I should like to have many goes at him, because I was on the Standing Committee, and he deserves it.

I hope that the Government will advise the House to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Clegg

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has just given a formidable list of women's organisations who will be after the Solicitor-General's blood, but there is one other treat in store for him. He will have some explaining to do to his noble Friend the Baroness Summerskill, who might by then have changed her mind about boxing.

The hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was very revealing. After we had been criticised through the night for daring to suggest that the Government were anything but neutral about the Bill, he said in the clearest terms that they were backing it. It was very significant that he often referred to the Bill as "ours".

10.30 a.m.

The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to what was likely to be contained in the proposed legislation in the forthcoming Report of the Law Commission. I have some knowledge of this, having submitted a paper to the Commission on this point. One matter to which he did not refer was the problem arising in the case of a private pension scheme. It is well known that many such schemes provide for a pension to be paid to a widow, and it is impossible for a scheme to change such a provision. It cannot choose to pay the pension to a divorced wife instead of the deceased man's widow.

The importance of this point is contained in the words that we are proposing to delete … the best that can be made in the circumstances". If a man in a pension scheme petitions for divorce, the judge has to consider the fact that if he grants a divorce any pension payable on the petitioner's death will go to the woman whom he is proposing to marry and, if he is not proposing to remarry, it will be lost completely. In that event, the judge will want to compensate the wife for the loss of that pension. However, in such a case, a tremendous capital sum will be required, even to create a pension of £10 or £15 a week, and that will probably be quite beyond the pocket of the average man.

In such a situation, it would not be right for the judge to decide to grant a divorce when the petitioner has only sufficient means to provide a pittance to compensate his first wife in the event of his death. That cannot be right, and we should not pass this legislation unless such problems can be solved.

This is a Private Member's Bill, but the solution of the problem that I have raised depends on another Bill being introduced by a Government Minister. If we accept this Measure without some satisfactory safeguards, we shall be taking a tremendous leap in the dark. The Solicitor-General said that we should have to wait for the further Report on matrimonial property, but in this Clause we are proposing to deprive some people of rights which they have already. They should not be deprived of them until we have all the information. Until we have it, we shall not get a fair result, and that is a quite scandalous position.

Sir C. Black

I was in favour of the Amendment when it was first moved, and everything that has happened since confirms my view that this House should accept it.

We are concerned with the words … reasonable and fair or the best that can be made in the circumstances. If the best that can be made in the circumstances is reasonable and fair, the words are superfluous, and it is right to delete them as the Amendment proposes. If the words … the best that can be made in the circumstances mean something different from "reasonable and fair", it must mean unreasonable and unfair, and, if it means that, it is unacceptable to a majority of hon. Members. The case for this Amendment is overwhelming.

We have heard an extraordinary statement from the Solicitor-General. He says that we cannot be told at present what the financial provision is to be. Apparently no one knows. He says that we may be told in the next Session of Parliament what provision will be made, and legislation will be introduced to deal with it; meanwhile, if this Measure gets on to the Statute Book it will not come into effect until the financial provision has been made in the next Session of Parliament. That makes it even more monstrous that we have had to go through the ordeal of sitting for 12½ hours following the conclusion of yesterday's business.

Mr. David Mitchell

It is not when the financial provisions become effective. It is when legislation is introduced, which is a very different matter.

Sir C. Black

Anyhow, it will not happen until next Session. That being the case, why this Bill should have been selected by the Government—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We debated that some time ago. I still remember.

Sir C. Black

Mr. Speaker, I touched on it because the Solictor-General dealt with the matter at great length when you were not here.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If Mr. Solicitor-General erred in my absence, that does not excuse another sinner.

Sir C. Black

Then I must try to find another occasion on which to deal with the matter.

This has been an extremely unsatisfactory episode. Hardly anything that we have been told in reply to this debate has satisfied us. I hope that the House will have no hesitation in accepting the Amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just asked at the Vote Office for a copy of the Order Paper setting out today's business. I am told that none has been issued and that there is no Order Paper for Friday. I wanted an Order Paper to look at the Bills due to be considered at 11 o'clock today, including one of my own. In view of what I have been told, I must conclude that someone has assumed that Thursday's business will kill the private Members' business set down for Friday. That may happen, but it is wrong that there should be an assumption that it will happen. It also indicates that the Government Whips have arranged this situation. I hope that you will be able to help the House, because some hon. Members want the Order Paper for Friday.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have before me the Order Book. Appearing on the front page is all the business which will be taken on Friday at 11 o'clock if this Bill has completed its stages by then.

Sir T. Beamish

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

We have been sitting for 20 hours continuously, and that is far too long for right hon. and hon. Members to be at their best and do really good work. This sitting follows three late nights on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the House adjourned between one and two in the morning. It has been a very tough week. In the last Division only about a quarter of the House voted; yet we are debating a major Measure which has wide social implications.

This is an intolerable situation which brings Parliament into great disrepute. That is my reason for suggesting that we should adjourn further consideration of this Measure.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member need not remind Mr. Speaker of the lengths of time for which the House has worked for the whole of this week and, indeed, through this long debate. I am not prepared to accept a dilatory Motion.

Sir S. McAdden

In supporting the Amendment, I must say at once that I can recall only one hon. Member who has ever been kind to me about a speech I have made and that was the Solicitor-General. He followed me after I made my maiden speech many years ago, and, that being so, perhaps the phrases he then used about it must not be thought to contain all the veracity at his command, as we all know how kind the House is to maiden speakers. It is therefore with the greater sorrow that I have to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not think that he has enlightened the House very much.

It seemed to me that the hon. and learned Gentleman was at some pains to try to explain to us in legal language that what is perfectly clear in plain English does not mean what it says. The words in Subsection (2)(b) are: … 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 Solicitor-General told us that, in his view, so long as the financial provision was the best the man could possibly afford the judge would undoubtedly hold that that provision was fair and reasonable. If that is the case, the words in the Amendment ought not to be retained at all.

The Solicitor-General did not enlighten us very much further as to the contribution the regulations to be made by the State would make in regard to the future income of the unwillingly divorced partner. He did not tell us what the Government had in mind. It is true, and it surprised me, that he let us have a peep into a report of the Law Commission which he has not seen, which seemed to be a most disreputable way of trying to argue. It is, of course, in line with much that has been done in an attempt to hasten this Bill through its various stages. We have seen this being done constantly. We have it from the Solicitor-General that we need not worry too much about the financial provision for the unwillingly divorced spouse, because the Law Commission has something up its sleeve.

The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that we need not really worry overmuch, because the provisions of this present Bill will not come into effect until the Lord Chancellor names the date, and that he had it on the authority of his noble Friend that he would not name the date until the other legislation had been introduced in a new Session of Parliament. It is all very nice to let us into these secrets, but it seems to me that there is no need for this hurry if the date is not to be named until the next Session of Parliament when, at unspecified time, legislation may or may not be introduced. If that is the case, why should we sit up all night long because the Government usurp private Members' time in order to get this Measure through the House of Commons?

Hon. Members on this side who have drawn the attention of the House to the words in the Amendment are acting in the very best interests of the unwillingly divorced spouse, because they seek to make it clear that the financial provision made should be reasonable and fair and that this other nonsense about … or the best that can be made in the circumstances should be deleted. I hope that it will be deleted.

10.45 a.m.

Mr. Percival

I expressed my appreciation to the promoter of the Bill for having, as I have reason to believe, persuaded some of his supporters, who would otherwise have been inclined to seek to bring the debate to an end, to refrain from so doing for a little time so that a few more hon. Members might speak on this important matter. I am obliged to him, and I will try to respond by being as brief as I can.

Some very harsh things have been said about the Solicitor-General, and I have to say that I, too, regard his answer as very unsatisfactory. In saying that, I mean no personal discourtesy. His answer is very unsatisfactory because there is not a satisfactory answer: he could not, therefore, give anything but an unsatisfactory answer. He is in an impossible position in trying to the best of his ability to give an assurance about something which the Law Commission proposes to do but has not done, and an assurance about what his noble Friend will do when we know that he cannot bind his noble Friend to do anything in particular and when his noble Friend has not yet the means to decide what he will do.

It has been agreed all through that this provision is of great importance because under Clause 2(1)(e)—and this provision is related specifically to that Clause—it is necessary to provide some protection for women who are so divorced. That is the whole purpose. What has emerged during the course of the debate is that the provision does not give any protection.

The Solicitor-General's reasons for retaining the words … or the best that can be made in the circumstances I can understand, but the consequence of their retention is to provide no protection where there is no money. He said that none of us would want one law for the rich and another law for the poor, and, of course, we do not, but that is just what we shall have.

Clause 6 will be very useful where a family has a lot of money. It will be a most wonderful instrument, not to put too fine a point of it, for blackmail, because the wife of a wealthy husband can say, "You have got your decree nisi but, my boy, you do not get a decree absolute until you have made me reasonable and fair provision under Clause 6." To the family with wealth, Clause 6 will be a boon, but it will not mean a thing where there is no money.

We all know very well that the vast majority of cases with which we shall be concerned are cases where there is not money, or certainly where there is not enough money to make reasonable provision for two families. Whilst we welcome what the Solicitor-General thinks the Law Commission may recommend, and whilst it would be useful if the law were changed so that the courts had wider power to secure provision—although those powers are already very wide indeed; but if there is to be any restriction on property settlement, let them be wider—to talk about secure provision of settlements of property and variations of settlements is, in respect of the kind of households with which we shall be concerned under this Clause, nonsense. There is no property from which to make secure provision, and certainly there are no settlements to be varied in the kind of household for which we want to provide protection.

It would therefore appear at the moment that whilst these recommendations of the Law Commission will be awaited with interest, and though they may be of some advantage in the general context of making maintenance provisions, they are really irrelevant to what we are considering here, which is how to give protection to the wife where there is not any money.

We have here the question of pensions. That is why I particularly wanted to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, because this harks right back to Second Reading, when the Solicitor-General intervened to assist us, when we first came to this kind of point, by pointing out that the whole scale of social security payments was to be reviewed. He said, quite fairly, that he could not forecast what the amount would be, but that what he had in mind was that there might be some restructuring of the pensions which would avoid the adverse effect of the Bill on pension rights. We knew that it would be difficult. At the time he could give no assurance because it was a very difficult subject. We must assume that no answer has yet been found.

But in the kind of family about which we are worried, the widow's pension is one of the most variable items, and unless and until the Government can give some indication of some change in the law which will provide some protection in households where there is little money, we can place no reliance on this Clause, especially while it contains the words or the best that can be done in the circumstances". I therefore hope that the promoters, who have kindly, courteously and properly agreed to look at other matters, will look also at this matter.

I put it to them that there is an obligation on them to look at it again. The Solicitor-General has given us all the help he can give, but what he said is wholly unsatisfactory in the context of providing protection for these women. It is no exaggeration to say that Clause 2(1,e) has been sold to the public on the basis that protection would be provided for the women who otherwise would come out of it badly. It appears after these debates that on the present wording of Clause 6 there will be little, if any, protection, and I therefore respectfully suggest that there is an obligation on the promoters to look at the whole question again.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. I think, Mr. Speaker, that you would like me to add to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis). You probably had the big Order Paper in front of you and you were probably unaware that the ordinary daily Order Paper has not been printed and is not available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I assure the hon. Lady that I understood exactly every single word that was uttered by the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis).

Dame Irene Ward

Further to that point of order. It is monstrous action by the Government, who must have ordered the Order Papers not to be Printed. They should not have done that. It is very bad administration.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whether the Government are monstrous and whether the administration is bad is not a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Dame Irene Ward

I know, Mr. Speaker, but I thought you would like to know about it.

Mr. Abse

The suggestion is that the court should hold that if the petitioner, having met all the other requirements, nevertheless provided the respondent with less than she needed, the decree could not be made absolute. Is that fair? Would the Amendment, if it were accepted, make the Bill a piece of class legislation designed for the rich only?

It is best if I get away for the moment from the question of settlement and annunities. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) is correct when he says that "fair and reasonable" can deal with the problem of the rich. What, he asks, was the situation of those who did not have property? The contribution of the Solicitor-General in indicating the legislation to be introduced next Session is an indication that where there is property the consequences of this Bill will mean that there will be still greater security, in the event of a divorce, for the family, which breaks up where there are means available for the family.

I will give two instances to illustrate the great danger of putting the Amendment into the Bill. The type of people I shall use as illustration will make it clear that we should retain these words in the Bill, however unsatisfactory some hon. Members may think them to be. Let us consider the situation of an old-aged pensioner who, for many years, has lived with a woman a little younger than himself. The old-age pensioner has been separated from his wife for 20 or 30 years—and that is typical of hundreds of cases which occur.

Let us assume that there was a maintenance order against the old-age pensioner, as would normally be the case, he having separated from his wife, for whatever reason, 20 or 30 years ago. He keeps up the payments for 20 to 30 years and then he has to cease work. He has a very small pension. He goes to the magistrates' court and says, "I have paid the maintenance to my wife for 20 or 30 years, but I can pay no longer because I have only a pension as income". The court takes that into account and, as every magistrate present knows, probably reduces the payment to a nominal order of 1s. or 2s. a week. That old-age pensioner has been waiting probably for decades for a Bill such as this. He wishes to marry the woman whom he regards as his wife and with whom he has lived for all those years.

The question which the House has to decide is whether he should be barred from obtaining a divorce if, as is quite clear, he is not in a position to provide a reasonable amount of settlement to his original wife. I may be asked how that wife manages to live, since she receives only 2s. a week or so in maintenance. The answer is that, unfortunately, she is living like thousands of other deserted wives with the aid of social security. That fact cannot be dodged. It is the present position.

The man has maintained the payments as long as he can. He has lived apart from his wife for 20 or 30 years. The House must answer the question: should he, because he is poor, be barred from obtaining a divorce? Or is it not right that he should have an opportunity to get a divorce in the same way as a man of wealth? He will have that opportunity only if we leave in the Clause the words which the Amendment seeks to leave out.

I will give a second illustration to show the House the problem which we are trying to overcome. It is that of a wife. Listening to some of the speeches, one would have thought that under the law wives are always regarded as innocent parties. In fact, under the law, many of them are the so-called guilty parties. This wife left her husband 20 years ago. She has two illegitimate children by the other man, whom she regards as her husband. She may be earning enough to keep herself. The man she left when the marriage broke down 20 years ago had no means. He has suffered an accident and is capable of earning only very little or incapable of earning at all. He, too, is living on social security.

The woman is the petitioner under the Bill and she goes to court. It will be appreciated that under these provisions there is no distinction between man and woman. If it were a wealthy woman in these circumstances, the court would say, "We think it fair and reasonable that you should make a contribution to your husband". That would be a precondition of the divorce. But the woman in the case which I have mentioned will not be able to make that contribution. She has managed to keep herself. She has two illegitimate children by the common law husband with whom she has been living for many years. The man with whom she is living is just scraping along.

The House must decide whether we should debar her from obtaining a divorce because she cannot be ordered to give a fair and reasonable amount to her husband. Or should we say, as the sponsors of the Bill say, that the judge must have discretion to order what is best in the circumstances?

11.0 a.m.

Mr. Maddan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It being 11 o'clock and in view of the statement of the Leader of the House—reported in column 1674 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 12th June—in which he advised us to wait and see what happened to the progress of the Bill before the Government made a determination about the fate of the other Measures on the Order Paper—which has not been published, but which is in the Order Book—would you agree, Mr. Speaker, that this is an appropriate time for me to ask you to accept a Motion to adjourn the debate?

While a similar Motion moved earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stanford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) was not accepted by the Chair, at that lime we had not had the reply of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) to the Amendment, which concerns the financial provisions of the Bill. We have now substantially had his reply and have dealt with the major Amendments which have been selected for the Report stage.

I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that we have now reached two definitive positions; a definitive position in regard to the progress of the Bill and that definitive position which the Leader of the House advised us to await before deciding whether we had to lose this Friday's normal business as set down on the Order Paper. It is for these reasons that I suggest that we now adjourn the debate.

Mr. Speaker

We are past 11 o'clock and today's business has been lost. I am not prepared to accept a dilatory Motion.

Mr. Waddington

I urge the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) to accept that the example which he has given is a peculiarly bad one, because the practice of the courts is to make the husband pay maintenance to the wife save in the most exceptional circumstances. In the case to which he referred I am sure that the judge would have acted under Clause 6(2)(a) of the Bill and would have found the petitioner not required to make any financial provision to the respondent, which means that Clause 6(2)(b) would not have arisen.

Mr. Abse

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct. I have been giving instances representing the common run of events. It is for the House to decide whether it will exclude a high proportion of the people who constitute this present social problem. I do not think that I need add to what I have said, for the issue is clear and the effect of the financial provisions will be that when it comes to a family with means, there will be no difficulty.

I do not claim that matters will be improved as between the two types of family if the Bill is passed. However, I do claim that the position will not be worsened and that a large number of men and women will be released from the bondage of some archaic legislation.

Mr. Christopher Price

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

Division No. 262.] AYES [11.4 a.m.
Abse, Leo Gregory, Arnold Oram, Albert E.
Albu, Austen Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hamling, William Paget, R. T.
Archer, Peter Haseldine, Norman Parker, John (Dagenham)
Ashley, Jack Heffer, Eric S. Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Astor, John Hobden, Dennis Pavitt, Laurence
Awdry, Daniel Hooson, Emlyn Pentland, Norman
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Bell, Ronald Huckfield, Leslie Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hunt, John Rankin, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Roebuck, Roy
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Cant, R. B. Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Carmichael, Neil Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Channon, H. P. G. Kenyon, Clifford Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Chapman, Donald Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Silverman, Julius
Coe, Denis Lipton, Marcus Sinclair, Sir George
Concannon, J. D. Lubbock, Eric Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Crawshaw, Richard Lyons, Edward (Bradford E.) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) MacColl, James Tapsell, Peter
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Macdonald, A. H. Taverne, Dick
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mackie, John Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Ellis, John Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Varley, Eric G.
Emery, Peter Marks, Kenneth Vickers, Dame Joan
English, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Watkins, David (Consett)
Ennals, David Mikardo, Ian Whitaker, Ben
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Millan, Bruce White, Mrs. Eirene
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morris, John (Aberavon) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Ford, Ben Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Forrester, John Newens, Stan TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fowler, Gerry Norwood, Christopher Mr. Peter M. Jackson and
Freeson, Reginald Nott, John Mr. Christopher Price.
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Ogden, Eric
Alldritt, Walter Harvie Anderson, Miss Onslow, Cranley
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Hawkins, Paul Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Black, Sir Cyril Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Russell, Sir Ronald
Body, Richard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Kerby, Capt. Henry Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Chichester-Clark, R. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Tuck, Raphael
Clegg, Walter Kirk, Peter Waddington, David
Costain, A. P. Knight, Mrs. Jill Ward, Dame Irene
Delargy, Hugh Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Weatherill, Bernard
Eyre, Reginald Longden, Gilbert Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Fortescue, Tim McAdden, Sir Stephen Woof, Robert
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McNair-Wilson, Michael Worsley, Marcus
Goodhew, Victor Maddan, Martin
Grieve, Percy Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Mr. John Biggs-Davison and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) More, Jasper Mr. Simon Mahon.
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)

Question put accordingly, That the Amendment be made:—

Division No. 263.] AYES [11.13 a.m.
Alldritt, Walter Fortescue, Tim Hill, J. E. B.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Hunt, John
Black, Sir Cyril Goodhew, Victor Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Body, Richard Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Kerby, Capt. Henry
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Grieve, Percy Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Channon, H. P. G. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Kirk, Peter
Chichester-Clark, R. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Knight, Mrs. Jill
Clegg, Walter Harvie Anderson, Miss Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Costain, A. P. Hawkins, Paul Longden, Gilbert
Delargy, Hugh Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel McAdden, Sir Stephen

The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 48.

The House divided: Ayes 58, Noes 91.

McNair-Wilson, Michael (W'stow, E.) Percival, Ian Weatherill, Bernard
Maddan, Martin Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Russell, Sir Ronald Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Silvester, Frederick Woof, Robert
Millan, Bruce Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Worsley, Marcus
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tapsell, Peter
Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
More, Jasper Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Mr. Simon Mahon and
Nott, John Waddington, David Mr. John Biggs-Davison.
Onslow, Cranley Ward, Dame Irene
Abse, Leo Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Oram, Albert E.
Albu, Austen Gregory, Arnold Padley, Walter
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Archer, Peter Hamling, William Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Awdry, Daniel Haseldine, Norman Pavitt, Laurence
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hobden, Dennis Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Bell, Ronald Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Rankin, John
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Huckfield, Leslie Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Roebuck, Roy
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Cant, R. B. Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Carmichael, Neil Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Chapman, Donald Kenyon, Clifford Silverman, Julius
Concannon, J. D. Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Sinclair, Sir George
Crawshaw, Richard Lipton, Marcus Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Lubbock, Eric Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Taverne, Dick
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Macdonald, A. H. Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Tuck, Raphael
Ellis, John Mackie, John Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Emery, Peter Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Watkins, David (Consett)
English, Michael Marks, Kenneth Whitaker, Ben
Ennals, David Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard White, Mrs. Eirene
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Mikardo, Ian Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morris, John (Aberavon)
Ford, Ben Morrison, Charles (Devizes) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Forrester, John Newens, Stan Mr. Peter M. Jackson and
Fowler, Gerry Norwood, Christopher Mr. Christopher Price.
Freeson, Reginald Ogden, Eric
Sir C. Black

I beg to move Amendment No. 33, in page 4, line 37, at end insert: In considering the financial obligations of the petitioner the court shall disregard any financial obligations the petitioner has incurred by reason of any association into which he has entered with another person". Subsection (2) prescribes the considerations which the court must have in mind in fixing the payment to be made by the respondent. The relevant words are: The court … shall consider all the circumstances, including the age, health, conduct, earning capacity, financial resources and financial obligations of each of the parties". It has been pointed out repeatedly that in the great majority of cases those who will be involved in these arrangements will be people of small or limited means. It is in such cases that the difficulty arises of trying to do justice in circumstances in which it is almost impossible for justice to be done. Inevitably the question arises as to the relative claims of the legal wife and children as against the responsibilities of the husband who has left his wife and is living with another woman by whom he may have had children—the woman who has been described by the promoter as the common law wife as against the legal wife.

Most people will agree that in any conflict of interest between the two the legal wife and her children should have priority in regard to available financial resources. After all, they have a legal claim which the common law wife does not have, at any rate at that point in time. They were first in the field, whereas the common law wife was only second in the field. It is undeniable that it is the legal wife and children who should be considered as having the priority when this conflict arises between the claims of the two women and their children.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my hon. Friend give us his views on the position arising where the legal wife has no children but there are illegitimate children of the second union? I am not sure how those children would fare if the Amendment were carried.

Sir C. Black

The Amendment does not deal with the question of children, so that question does not arise qua the wording of my Amendment. My Amendment would apply equally where the legal wife has no children and the common law wife has. I believe that the general view will be that the legal wife has a higher claim, a claim to be preferred and to be put on a higher footing than any claim that the common law wife may have. I am anxious to ensure that that position shall be preserved in the disposal of any funds that may be available between the two women and their families, if there be families.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has drafted the Amendment so that it would do what he desires. Any illegitimate child there may be has arrived by reason of any association into which the husband has entered with another person". That is how illegitimate children arrive.

As I—a non-lawyer—read the Amendment, their financial claims on the father, which I should have thought every hon. Member would have wanted to bear heavily in mind, would be completely cut out. The House should give careful attention to the claims which the children of the second woman may have, and never more so than where there are no children of the first union.

Therefore, although I voted for the previous Amendment, I shall be bound to vote against this one, because it would put the children of the second union completely out of court from the point of view of having any claim upon the financial substance of their father. I do not believe that is my hon. Friend's intention.

Mr. David Mitchell

I hope that the promoters of the Bill will consider accepting the Amendment. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I believe that if the Amendment is not made there will be no restraint upon a married man having an affair with another woman and going on to build up financial commitments in the shape of children born of that second union and, by so doing, reduce his liability to maintain his own, at that time, legal wife.

If the Amendment or something similar is not written into the Bill, there will be no discipline on a man not to have an affair with another woman, have another family by her, and say to himself all that time, "It does not matter, because these children will have an equality of financial claim with the claim of my legal wife whom I have deserted".

The promoters of the Bill cannot slide over the Amendment, even at this late stage. There is a mood in the country of laxness which causes widespread concern. If the Bill were to be enacted without the Amendment, I fear that we should encourage a degree of immorality which no hon. Member would wish to encourage and which the sponsors of the Bill do not want to happen. If the sponsors of the Bill are unable to accept the Amendment, I shall be unable to support the Bill on Third Reading.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Abse

I understand the apprehensions expressed by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell), but, whatever may be the mood of the country, lawyers are well aware that all the recent case law is making it more and more clear that the courts are interpreting the present law, which is not altered in this respect by the Bill, in a way which leans heavily towards the wife, as, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman and most hon. Members would expect. There is, therefore, no ripple, as it were, within the courts to encourage the sort of attitudes which the hon. Gentleman fears.

As for the Amendment itself, for the reasons, among others, advanced by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), it would be impossible to accept so rigid a formula as this. It would mean that illegitimate children were excluded, and it would tie the hand of the court. I can hardly imagine that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) would wish to introduce, or urge us to accept, an Amendment which could be so rigid in its effect as to bring severe hardship to a family, and particularly the children, as this undoubtedly would.

The Amendment would put the court in an intolerable position, since it is our desire, as is clear from Clause 6(2), to make certain that the court, applying the general principles which I have explained, shall consider all the circumstances. I do not doubt that in considering those circumstances, if they are so permitted, the courts will act in such a way that it will be seen that the wife in every instance of which I can think receives the sort of priority which I understand to be in some hon. Members' minds.

Division No. 264.] AYES [11.34 a.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Silvester, Frederick
Alldritt, Walter Harvie Anderson, Miss Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Black, Sir Cyril Hill, J. E. B. Tuck, Raphael
Body, Richard Kerby, Capt. Henry Waddington, David
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Ward, Dame Irene
Bullus, Sir Eric Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Weatherill, Bernard
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Longden, Gilbert Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Chichester-Clark, R. McAdden, Sir Stephen Woof, Robert
Delargy, Hugh McNair-Wilson, Michael
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Maddan, Martin TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Goodhew, Victor Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Mr. Simon Mahon and
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Mr. John Biggs-Davison.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Abse, Leo Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Norwood, Christopher
Albu, Austen Gregory, Arnold Nott, John
Archer, Peter Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Ogden, Eric
Astor, John Haseldine, Norman Oram, Albert E.
Awdry, Daniel Hobden, Dennis Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bell, Ronald Huckfield, Leslie Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Pavitt, Laurence
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Roebuck, Roy
Brown, Hugh D. ((G'gow, Provan) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Cant, R. B. Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Carmichael, Neil Kenyon, Clifford Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Channon, H. P. G. Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Chapman, Donald Lipton, Marcus Silvernman, Julius
Coe, Denis Lubbock, Eric Sinclair, Sir George
Concannon, J. D. Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Crawshaw, Richard Macdonald, A. H. Taverne, Dick
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Mackie, John Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Varley, Eric G.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Marks, Kenneth Vickers, Dame Joan
Ellis, John Marten, Neil Whitaker, Ben
Emery, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. White, Mrs. Eirene
English, Michael Mikardo, Ian Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Ennals, David Millan, Bruce Winnick, David
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Morris, John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ford, Ben Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Mr. Christopher Price and
Forrester, John Nicholls, Sir Harmar Mr. William Hamling.
Freeson, Reginald
Mr. Speaker

I have not selected any of the multitude of Amendments to the proposed Third Reading, but this will not limit the debate in any way.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Alec Jones

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

After a hard day's night it is not my desire to prevent or delay in any way

On this occasion, although I have gladly accepted three Amendments put forward by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, I hope he will not press an Amendment which, I am sure, most hon. Members will regard as bad.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 37, Noes 90.

the House from coming to a final conclusion on the Bill. For many reasons, I would not seek to carry out any such programme of delay.

I believe it essential that Parliament come to a decision on divorce reform and although I was the sponsor of the Bill I sincerely believe that I would have preferred it to be rejected rather than fail through lack of Parliamentary time or because of procedural devices. It is important that Parliament, for its own reputation, should make the decision, and it is equally important for the people affected by the Bill. For many years we have played with them cat and mouse, raising their hopes one year only to dash them to the ground the next.

Throughout the long Committee and Report stages, some criticism was made of the Bill that it was hastily conceived and badly drafted and I want to take up briefly these two points in a general way. The Bill originated in a Bill introduced in 1951 by my hon. Friend the present Minister of State, Welsh Office, which led to the appointment of the Morton Commission. There followed, in 1963, the Divorce Reform Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). In 1964, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Group published "Putting Asunder". Finally, in 1966, we had the Law Commissioner's Report, "The Field of Choice". This all resulted in the Bill which was introduced in 1967 in almost the same terms as this one by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson).

This is a consensus Bill. It has been framed to carry out, as fairly and effectively as possible, the proposals for divorce reform which emerged from the exchange of views of the Law Commissioners and the Archbishop's Group headed by the Bishop of Exeter.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have listened to all the arguments and points raised. I have taken advice from individuals, members of the legal profession and from the Law Commissioners. I have accepted some Amendments. Some hon. Members I know think that I should have accepted a lot more. But I have been anxious throughout to do nothing to destroy the agreement reached between the Archbishop's Group and the Law Commissioners, since I believe that that agreement is the best basis for a more rational and compassionate divorce law. I accept the sincerity and the integrity of those who have opposed the Bill, or who have opposed certain of its provisions, and I ask them that they accept if not the wisdom of the supporters of the Bill at least our integrity and sincerity likewise.

I want to take this opportunity of paying particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool for his work on the Bill and for his work for many years in the cause of divorce reform. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South and my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) who has done a great deal of work to facilitate the passage of the Bill.

It would be wrong for us to believe that many of these social reform Measures are brought about only by the actions of politicians, and here I pay tribute to the Divorce Law Reform Union and its representative, Mr. Alistair Service. The Law Commissioners have provided great help and assistance in drafting and correcting and, likewise, I thank them for their support.

All the world loves a wedding, because it embodies the love, hopes and aspirations of us all. No one loves a divorce and certainly I do not, neither for myself nor for anyone else. But I believe that if we are to seek to discourage divorce we cannot do it by law but by ourselves practising and encouraging others to follow a far higher moral approach to all our human relationships. I have resisted the temptation to quote letters because, obviously, most of the people who have written to me have been themselves in a plight because of the break-up of their marriages and wanted the Bill to go through.

But I will break that practice today and finish by quoting from a letter which typifies the feelings of many of the people whom I hope the Bill will serve well. It says: There are many harsh cases such as mine and we can do so little to help and you so much. I am 68 years old and in 1936 I left my legal spouse due to the conduct she meted out to me. That was 33 long years ago. She refused to divorce me and after many years of sadness I met a gracious lady in 1945 and in 1949 we came to live here as man and wife. We have no children. Neither have I any by my legal spouse. We just go on hoping, hoping and hoping that one day before one of us is called home we may be legally married and so complete our loyal love and affection. Will you help our dream come true? Please, please, please do try.

I believe that this is what the Divorce Reform Bill will do to serve people like this and that it will serve them well.

11.47 a.m.

Sir L. Heald

I am sure that the House will not wish to have a long speech at this stage but I want to put before it the reasons why I feel bound to say that still I oppose the Third Reading of the Bill. Before doing so, I congratulate the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) on the work he has done throughout the passage of the Bill. He and I have been on opposite sides for a long time in considering the Bill, but we have always had the most pleasant relations and he must feel very happy that he has today received such remarkable support from his own followers. I know he will be very pleased about that, and I must add that those of us who know him know that there is at least one good reason for it—his personality.

I say at once that the reason for my opposition to the Third Reading is that the Bill has emerged at this stage with substantially no amendment and it remains what I have always maintained it to be—unfair and without adequate financial protection to innocent spouses and their children in the application of the new grounds for divorce which it introduces. That has particular relation to paragraph (e), which we discussed again today.

I must deal with what is in the Bill. I will state very briefly what it is about that Clause to which I and many others object. It is, first, the general principle of the unilateral provisions of compulsory divorce. I should like to have seen that Clause drafted on the lines that we discussed today; that is, if I may make a comparison familiar to lawyers, based on the provision in landlord and tenant matters, that consent to the assignment of a lease, for example, should not be unreasonably withheld. If we had to have it I think, and I have always suggested, that that would be a fairer way of doing it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, we cannot amend a Clause on Third Reading. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can, however, denounce one.

Sir L. Heald

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Confining myself to what is in the Bill, I say that it provides inadequate financial protection for the "first wife" and her children, which I think is probably strictly in order. We have discussed this matter again today. I am speaking in the positive, not the negative, sense. What have we got from it? We have what the Solicitor-General told us this morning.

The Bill, as it stands, has been admitted by the Lord Chancellor to give defective financial protection to the first wife. It is said that this will prove in time not to be defective because Government legislation is to be introduced which will give effective protection.

I contend that the Bill should not be given a Third Reading at this time. The House ought to seize and retain control over the Bill until we have had an opportunity of seeing what it really provides. The Bill already notionally is to contain the Lord Chancellor's new provisions, but no one knows what they are. If the Solicitor-General does not know, how are we to know?

If we allow the Bill to go through today, what will be the position of this House? We know that some report is to appear. I should not for a moment detract from the Law Commission. I have no doubt that the report will be admirable. We have been told about the kind of matters that will be in it. I am sure that it will be very well done. But we also know that for the implementation of the Bill it is now clear that a substantial provision of public funds will also be required. The Law Commission will not supply those funds.

We could find ourselves next Session with a Bill, having received the Royal Assent, incapable of further Amendment and the House having no control over it. We shall then receive the report, and, based on that report, we shall receive some draft legislation as a White Paper or in some other form.

Suppose this House decides that the content of that new legislation is unsatisfactory. What a position we shall be in! We shall be powerless to do anything with it. It may be that another Bill would have to be introduced to make the wheels go round. Surely that is wrong.

I will not occupy the time of the House too long, but I should like to give one example which is most important to many of the women we have heard about today. I remind the House of what the Solicitor-General told us today. He used almost the same language as he did in Committee reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 5th March, 1969, at column 239. I will not read what he said, because he repeated it today. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to three matters: the extension of the court's powers to award secured provision—that is, secured maintenance as it is often called—a lump sum payment, and matters connected with settlements. But he did not mention anything about widows' pensions. That is one of the matters about which people are most concerned because the first wife cannot be a widow for the purposes of the vast majority of pension schemes.

Everyone knows that is one matter which must be dealt with before this large number of new divorces under the Bill are handled. I will not discuss it in any detail. We know that some people say that it will be necessary for there to be two widows' pensions. That will be a fairly tall order. In the foreseeable financial future it sounds an unlikely thing to be expected. I give that as an example.

The House is being asked, in effect, to place upon the Statute Book a Measure of great importance which, as it stands, the Lord Chancellor regards as not proper to be put into operation. I submit most strongly, in those circumstances, that it would be wrong to ask for the Royal Assent for the Bill.

It is not impossible for arrangements to be made to carry over a Bill at a certain stage. I will not discuss that matter now. I mention it to make clear that I am aware that there are ways by which these things can be done. I believe that something of that kind should be done. We should not be doing our duty, particularly after what we heard from the Solicitor-General today, if the House lost control of the Bill before knowing something about the financial and legal additions which will be made to it. It could be utterly wrong for us to let it go.

Therefore, I suggest that, while there may be some machinery for dealing with this matter, none has been suggested, and if none is suggested, the House should reject the Bill at this stage.

12 noon.

Mr. Peter Mahon

One of my hon. Friends said that this was a consensus Bill. As a democrat, I have no difficulty in recognising consensus opinion. That being so, I know full well that there will be many sad hearts in my constituency today at the passing of this Bill, particularly among the women-folk.

Divorce by compulsion is a denial of marriage itself, and I have no hesitation in suggesting that to the degree that this reform becomes law the institution we call marriage must totter. The Bill is an open-ended attack on marriage, and, therefore, on the family. As divorce becomes easier, it is a natural corollary that marrige becomes weaker.

With the passing of the Bill, this House is proposing for the first time in English law that a defaulter can benefit from wrong-doing. He can walk out on his wife and demand, as in law, some sort of freedom. He can walk out with somebody else's wife and still, with this reform, make his own bid for freedom. This is not freedom. This is licence. This is legislation for marital pandemonium, or, if we prefer it, the law of the jungle.

Marriage was meant to be the pledge of eternal love. With the Bill we are trying to pledge this country to eternal promiscuity, and we are giving it status into the bargain. If the Bill makes its mark, Britain will indubitably be a philanderer's paradise. Some people dislike the truth. I do not. I did not object when a noble Lady in another place referred to the Bill as a "Casanova's charter," and, if we are to accept the Solicitor-General's concept of the situation, a liar's charter to boot.

Divorce has been known as the sacrament of adultery, but with the passing of the Bill those days are over. Now we are legislating for divorce, without shame and without guilt. Divorce is now to be a respectable sacrament. We are living in an era of 50,000 divorces a year, one marriage in five ending in the courts. Mr. Deputy Speaker, with this Bill get ready for the wreck of one marriage in five. With the Bill get ready for the collapse of one marriage in two. With the Bill get ready for the collapse of marriage, and all done in the name of reform.

The period of two years' desertion by the petitioner, provided that the other person does not object, in my opinion is not sufficiently long to constitute grounds for the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. A single extra-marital act is undoubtedly insufficient proof of the failure of a marriage. Fidelity in marriage implies much more than the abstention from adultery. But in my view, also, two years' separation is even less proof that a a marriage has unquestionably collapsed.

Marriage is often likened to a voyage. There can be long calms and deep peace. There can be squalls and great hardships, tremendous trials, tribulations, and vicissitudes. Let me pursue the comparison. The Bill is an invitation to every sea-dog to jump overboard whenever there is a storm in his marriage, and yet the Christian concept demands that he stay on deck. There are too many deserting the ship. There are too many hacking holes in the side of the ship.

No thinking person can be happy about the state of marriage as it exists in England today. In the realm of marriage divorce is an abuse, a disintegrating and destructive abuse. Divorce has become so common that it is threatening the foundation of marriage and gnawing at the very vitals of family life. Marriage is not only for a man and a woman. That was not the whole idea at all. Marriage is for the children of the family, and the detraction of marriage by divorce, particularly by divorce without the consent of both parties, inflicts on the children all the unhappiness of a broken home.

Easy divorce laws are a disaster for the community. Divorce is not a private matter. Everyone is affected by the general standards. What of the hard cases, as they are called? Those of us who are men and women of the world and feel that we have our feet on the ground say that in human affairs there are inevitably always bound to be hard cases. Nothing human will ever be perfect. Marriages will fail, but easy divorce will not lessen the number. It will increase it.

All divorce begins with selfishness on the part of one or both partners. It cannot be gainsaid that with a modicum of good will and tolerance the most stormy seas can safely be navigated. In one of his dilemmas recently the Home Secretary said, "Steady as she goes; just a touch of the tiller". He said that difficulties separate the men from the boys, and difficulties certainly cement a marriage and add to the love of any genuine wife for a good husband.

Divorce is undoubtedly synonymous with the disintegration of the family. If the purpose of the Bill—and I was hoping that we would be told that it has a purpose—is to make divorce easier, it represents a major disaster for the human beings involved. It represents a disaster for the institution of marriage. Easy divorce laws for all are a disaster for the children because they mean inevitably, once again, broken homes and divided loyalties.

Marriage is a sacrament, a holy thing. In Christian marriage there are not two parties to the contract; there are three—the husband, the wife and Almighty God. As the banners so often proclaim, God will not be mocked. In support of the Bill it is said that marriages that are ended are often terminated with much bitterness. With the advent of the Bill, will human nature indeed be changed? I think not. Hon. Members are inclined at times to live in a fool's paradise. We are asked to believe that the Bill will reduce the number of irregular and illicit unions. Just how naive are we in the House expected to become in the interests of reform?

One of our supposedly great newspapers, under the heading, "The deceits of divorce", proclaims that the Bill deserves to proceed despite the feminist hostility aroused by its earlier success. What it is saying is that the opinions of the women of our country must be trampled upon. The newspaper goes on to say that the critics of the Bill allege that it will erode the institution of marriage. This is a grandiloquent charge to make in defence of a law so obviously unsatisfactory as the present divorce law. The newspaper adds: Naturally, a new law on the lines proposed would produce a spate of divorces by people trapped in marriage while living stably with another person. Now we have this Bill, presented to us in all its stark staring reality. It is for the people trapped into illicit living, while those endeavouring to face up to the sacrament of matrimony as an indissoluble union can be left to live alone, with or without the children of the marriage, because one partner desires a change. It need not be adultery; the Bill does not mention it. Do not mention it, for that only creates bitterness; we are most anxious that whatever happens, everyone must remain very good friends.

Speak about equal rights, about equal pay, about equality in all spheres of human and natural relationships. The women of the country will detest the Bill and recoil in horror at its implications. It is admitted that there will be a spate of divorces. There will be a spate of broken homes, a spate of broken hearts and a never-to-be-forgotten life of loneliness, disruption and unhappiness for endless numbers of children.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I wish to make only a very short speech but, as one of the sponsors of the Bill, I should like to add a few words of my own.

I am sure that it is right that time was given last night for the discussion of the Bill, in spite of everything that was said by some of my hon. Friends in the debate. If procedural difficulties had killed the Bill I think the reputation of Parliament would have suffered yet another major setback. I believe the Bill will remove from the divorce law a great deal of the hypocrisy which surrounds it today and from the divorce courts a great deal of the distress, humiliation and bitterness which surround them today. I speak with some feeling here, as one who has practised a certain amount in a minor way in the divorce courts.

I am profoundly convinced that whatever our critics may say—and they have said it many times in the last few hours—the Bill will strengthen the institution of marriage and not weaken it. It is in that spirit that I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

12.16 p.m.

Dr. Gray

While congratulating the sponsors of the Bill on having brought it forward, I should make it clear that once again in 10 years' time the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will be bringing forward yet another.

The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said that the Bill has gone through virtually un-amended, either in his direction or in mine. It is true that the Bill introduces the irretrievable breakdown of marriage as the basic reason for divorce, and surely this should be welcomed, but at the same time it retains the doctrine of the matrimonial offence, despite its two principal innovations; namely, divorce by consent in a civilised way after two years and divorce after five years against the wish of one party.

Although one has to recognise that this last provision will be a source of grievance and suffering for many, one should also recognise that it will be a cause of great rejoicing to thousands more in this country who have lived in stable relationships for many years and the 180,000 illegitimate children in this country who will become legitimate. These people will be brought formally within society, and surely this is a good thing.

The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey drew attention to the question of financial provision. I hope the Lord Chancellor will listen to the cry of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), because I think something must be done, for example, in relation to the Married Women's Property Act, and the whole of social and financial supporting legislation should be improved. At the same time, one should recognise that there will not be insufficient provision for dependants of the rich only the poor. This too, it seems to me, is something to regret about this Bill. I hope that, just as the Abortion Act was improved in another place, so this Bill also will be improved. It also seems to me that as we are going to have divorce by consent after two years, it should no longer be necessary for adults to undergo suffering by appearing personally before the courts. They should be able to enter affidavits and not be called.

Once again I felicitate with all my heart the sponsors of this Bill. It is a step foward to an extremely modest reform, but certainly it is in the direction that many of us wish—indeed the majority—as has been shown by the voting during the passage of the Bill.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Campbell

On Second Reading I said that I regarded this as a disgraceful Bill which I would fight at every stage. I have fought it at every stage, and I still regard it as a disgraceful Bill. It will bring very little happiness. I am sure—I am sorry to be so sure—that it will bring a great deal of misery.

People generally do not realise what the Bill will do. It introduces unilateral divorce, which is the facet which has had perhaps the greatest publicity, but it also abolishes the doctrine of connivance. To take an extreme example, from the day it becomes law—if it does—a husband will be able to encourage his wife to commit adultery, send her out on the streets as a prostitute and live on her immoral earnings. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I am giving an extreme case. If he did that and then decided that it was intolerable to live with her, not because of her adultery but for almost any reason, he would be entitled to a divorce which the courts could not refuse. If anyone disputes that, let him dispute it now.

Mr. Alec Jones

The picture which the hon. and learned Gentleman has painted can hardly be described as that of a true and viable marriage, which is working under any circumstances.

Mr. Campbell

I am interested in that response, because it amounts to an acceptance of the accuracy of what I said. A man could be separated from his wife through no fault of either—perhaps one has been in hospital with tuberculosis or the man is working abroad while his wife and children are still in England. If the separation is long enough, one of them can say "I want a divorce" and will be entitled to it. I wonder whether people understand that this is one of the things which the new Bill does—

Mr. Awdry

To come back to my hon. and learned Friend's earlier example—a rather disgraceful case which he also raised in Committee—does he suggest that a man who asked his wife to go out on the streets as a prostitute would have a live marriage? Does he not agree that that marriage must have broken down?

Mr. Campbell

I am interested to hear another hon. Member raising the same question and therefore accepting the accuracy of what I said. I suppose it may be a poor sort of marriage, but is that the point?

Mr. Awdry

Of course.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that many hon. Members are very unhappy about the Bill and have not supported it, but that, on the basis of statements like that, we shall soon be voting for it? I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life.

Mr. Campbell

Perhaps the hon. Member would be more interested in just looking at the cold financial facts. Consider what will happen to the wife who is deserted and divorced. The only object of a divorce is to remarry: one can always leave one's wife. What will the first wife lose? She will lose her status as wife, and the right to live in the matrimonial home, to which the husband will probably bring his new wife. She will lose her rights to a share in her husband's pension, and whatever income the husband has must be shared with his new wife. It is almost impossible, if one is not a millionaire. Very few husbands can do this; so many of these wives will be thrown on National Assistance.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does my hon. and learned Friend realise that the figures show that 64 per cent. of the women remarry?

Mr. Campbell

I do not know to what figures my hon. Friend refers. I should have thought that remarriage would not be likely for many wives concerned in a compulsory divorce. It must depend largely on their age.

What can the Lord Chancellor's proposed legislation do? It is all very well to promise legislation dealing with matrimonial property; but what legislation? It is easy to deal with rich people and tell those men to provide for their divorced wives generously. But the county is not full of rich men. It is full of poor men, of middle-class and working people whose budgets simply do not allow for proper provision for two families. What does the ordinary man own? If he is lucky, he owns his home, probably heavily mortgaged, and that, with the furniture, is his only asset.

What can legislation do to provide the wife he divorces with anything? She may get a small slice of the equity in a home, perhaps a few hundred pounds at the most. It is simply impossible to provide adequately for these women by legislation, and unless the Government decide that they will allow one man to have more than one widow—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. We cannot pursue this line of argument too far on Third Reading.

Mr. Campbell

I will pursue it no further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think I am entitled to criticise the Bill generally. I criticise it on the ground that it is impossible for the women respondents, especially, to be adequately protected financially. They must suffer.

The cost to the Legal Aid Fund of extra divorce cases as a result of this legislation has been estimated by the Law Commission at between £300,000 and £400,000 a year. But that is only a drop in the ocean when one considers that so many thousands more people will be thrown on to social security because the husband will not be able to support two households. The amount involved must be enormous, and must come from the Exchequer, at a time when we are in grave economic difficulty.

I cannot welcome the Bill, but I should not like to sit down without congratulating the sponsor and his helpers, particularly his unofficial whip, who I thought did a magnificent job, especially throughout the watches of last night.

12.30 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I feel very glad that the prospect is that the House will come to a decision upon his Bill.

In passing, perhaps I might quote from a speech delivered in the course of the Second Reading on divorce reform in the Session before last by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), in which he said: As the Solicitor-General thought, it is desirable that each of the Front Benches should make a modest contribution to the debate, if only to say, as he said from his side and as I say from mine, that by the nature of the matter this is not a party issue of any sort. The Government and Opposition are neutral, not in the sense that we want our members to take no part in these discussions, but … in the sense that it is important that the group as such should occasionally desire to play no part as a group."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 877.] I agree with every word of that, for it deals with a theme which has given rise to a lot of discussion since. The Gov- ernment's attitude in this matter is really no more than an application of the point of view expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Listening to these debates and to the proceedings in Committee, both this Session and the previous Session, I have formed the impression that two points of view widely co-exist. First, I have found a general and widespread disposition to welcome the application of the principle of irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground for divorce. It gets away from a good number of artificialities and difficulties that nearly everyone is glad to see go. So that that concept contained in the Bill receives a wide welcome.

By the same token, as a matter of narrative I must say that I have found a great deal of natural and fairly expressed anxiety about the five-year living apart provision. There is anxiety about it, but I feel that the point which it is very important to remember is that, if the principle or concept of irretrievable breakdown is applied to these matters, of all the situations set out in the Bill the case of spouses living apart for as long as five years is prima facie the clearest evidence of that concept of breakdown taking effect. I put that forward as a reflection which other hon. Members may care to pursue.

During the course of this morning's discussions, and at earlier stages, I have attempted to give such assistance as I can about the intentions with regard to the financial provisions. Again considering the case of spouses living apart for five years, I would invite hon. Members to bear in mind that in most instances the financial difficulties which naturally and properly concern hon. Members will have accrued and developed during those five years. A good deal of the criticism about the insufficiency of financial provision is really as correctly directed against the existing state of affairs as it is to the recommendations and proposals contained in the Bill.

The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said in terms that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor had by his proposals and observations admitted that the financial safeguards in the Bill were inadequate. That is not so. My noble Friend has often emphasised that, where a respondent is adversely affected by the Bill, the court is given ample powers to give financial protection.

The powers given to the courts in respect of pensions are more extensive than perhaps is generally appreciated, and I acknowledge the problem created by the consideration of the pensions point. It is one of the facts of life that divorce alters the status inter se of spouses and, to the extent that pension rights depend on that status, divorce must affect them. Therefore, any petition for divorce must put a widow's pension at risk. However, the Bill enables the court to say to the petitioning husband, "You must do what you can about pension rights before the marriage is dissolved."

Then it is said repeatedly and with force that there should be much more compendious treatment of the financial provisions at the same time as, and interwoven with, proposals for changes in the law on divorce and judicial separation. I acknowledge that some of those arguments have been forceful, but I invite the House to consider that one advantage which counter-weighs that is the fact that financial provision may be best if it comes after and takes account of changes and adjustments in the substantative law. The financial provision is ancillary and, until the substantive law is known, it cannot be formulated so as to provide the best solution.

I agree that a major change in the substantive law ought to be followed by necessary and consequential changes in ancillary provisions, and the need to reduce to a minimum any interval between the two requires no justification. It is that kind of factor which has weighed in the mind of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and it explains the attitude that he has taken on the matter.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Hogg

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Solicitor-General for his speech. The House has a right to expect Front Bench spokesmen to give what help they can in matters of this kind, and to expect them, whatever their personal feelings in the matter, to detach themselves as far as they can from those personal feelings, and to put before the House as calmly as possible the technical legislative problems with which it is confronted.

I must apologise to the House for having absented myself after half-past five this morning. I confess that, although the spirit was willing, the flesh became progressively weaker, and the Front Bench on this side would not have been garnished at all had it not been for the devoted service of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) whose services I hope the House has noted with gratitude.

As I have said, and the Solicitor-General was kind enough to recall my remarks on a previous occasion when I spoke on the general merits of the Bill, I do not claim to find it easy to detach myself, partly because of my own personal history and partly because of my professional experience. It never has occurred to me to think that this is a disgraceful Bill. It is a Bill which has been very widely backed by a very considerable section of public opinion, and, quite apart from the section of public opinion in point of size, it is supported, and has been supported, by very highly qualified persons both in the field of morality and in the field of legislation. I therefore do not think it fair to describe it, even if one has reserves about it, as a disgraceful Bill.

I noticed at an earlier stage of our proceedings during the night that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) accused me of levity. I hope that on reflection he will feel that that was an unjust charge. I tried, it is true, to be amusing about a technical Amendment with which I was wholly in disagreement because I thought its technical implications were quite unacceptable, but I hope that the hon. Member, and his brother, the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) will accept that I approach the Bill, as they do, from a specifically Christian standpoint. But I would say this to them about the terms of the Bill.

Whether or not marriage be a sacrament is a matter for the theologians. We are not today legislating about the sacrament, if it be one. We are legislating about the legal status. This Bill concerns itself only with the legal status, and the legal status is the same whether the marriage is between Jews, or atheists, or between divorced persons, or between persons one of whom has been divorced. In none of those cases does any theologian pretend that the union is a sacrament. We are dealing with the legal status, the theological nature of which must differ between one couple and another, and it is unrealistic to suppose that a community like ours—

Mr. Peter Mahon

We are not today dealing specifically with marriage. We are dealing rather more with divorce and the abuses of divorce and the effect of divorce on the family, rather than with the situation with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has so eloquently outlined.

Mr. Hogg

We are dealing with the nature of the status, and the various characteristics which, in future, that status will have; and primarily, of course, with the dissolution of that status, and its legal consequences. This has been true of almost every matrimonial Measure since 1857, except those Acts which have dealt with property alone. Therefore, those who take the sacramental view of marriage—which, from one point of view, I myself do, without subscribing to the theology which is implied in the word—have to recognise that this does not assist the discussion on the merits of the Bill.

With regard to the consequences of the Bill, I have said previously that I have reserves about its value but, speaking for myself, there are only ten words which I find wholly unacceptable. They are the words at the end of Clause 6(2)(b): the best that can be made in the circumstances. I recognise that the introduction of unilateral divorce is something which arouses considerable apprehension and some feeling. Up to a point, I sympathise with both the apprehension and the feeling, but, on balance, and I must say to the House that I think that there comes a time—whether it should be five years, as the Bill provides, or some other period of time longer or shorter is a matter of degree—when the Legislature is probably wise to put a line under such a marriage which has failed, and say that it has failed and that the situation must be, as we would say in company law, wound up. That is what the Bill does in that respect.

That is not so, of course, if unilateral divorce is to be a feature of our matri- monial law, and that is what the House is in process of deciding and what Parliament will ultimately decide. If it is, the established rights of what I still must regard matrimonially as the innocent party—and as, I think, the hon. Member for Bootle said, there are a great number of innocent parties in broken-down marriages, and I speak now from professional experience—must be adequately safeguarded.

I say this deliberately to the sponsors of the Bill because I hope that when the Bill passes through the other House of Parliament they will have second thoughts about the second part of this set of words. The first part says that a decree is not to be given unless the financial provision for the innocent respondent in the case is "reasonable and fair". That seems to me to be just, and it says that it is just because it invokes the principle of justice for the respondent in the case of unilateral divorce. But when we add the words … or the best that can be made in the circumstances it seems to me that we are inviting Parliament to abandon the principle of justice, to abandon what is reasonable and fair, and I must say in the clearest and most unequivocal of terms that I could never vote for a Bill containing those words even though the whole of the rest of the Bill were acceptable.

I cannot help feeling that much of the discussion on Report and much of the discussion so far in this Third Reading debate has failed to concentrate on what seems to me to be the principal demerit of what is now proposed.

Mr. Abse

The right hon. and learned Gentleman unfortunately missed our debate on these words, but I would ask him how he would prevent a Bill like this becoming a piece of class legislation except by having a provision which, when the court deems it wise, enables poor people, who have no means, to end marriages which have clearly broken down?

Mr. Hogg

I apologise again for my absence after half-past five this morning. It was precisely that point that I had in mind when I was complaining that there had been too much discussion of points that do not really matter and too little discussion of the two or three points which really do matter. I think that a great deal of largely irrelevant and prejudicial material has been introduced, and it had the effect in my case, and I suspect that I am not alone in this, of preventing me from attending the particular debate in which I was most interested, and I apologise for it.

In answer to the precise question put to me, I do not think that the issue of class enters into it at all. If we keep the words "reasonable and fair" and abandon the words the best that can be made in the circumstances it seems to me that we shall make adequate provision for all classes. It seems to me that we are doing nobody any good by inserting into the Bill, for the benefit of those who are not quite so wealthy as others, a provision which deliberately abandons justice and does so unequivocally. Applying my mind as honestly as I can to the technical requirements of legislation, I feel it my duty to beg the promoters of the Bill to look at that issue again.

There is one other general principle to which I think Parliament should pay attention. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) put it in a slightly passionate form which I think obscured the real difficulty in the matter. If we are accepting, as the Bill does accept, irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground of divorce—which is a principle very widely accepted, not only by the sponsors of the Bill but, I find, in professional circles generally—then, if we stop there, we are abandoning a safeguard for the institution of marriage which has hitherto existed. Whether we are right or wrong to do so, that fact must be faced.

Let me explain the present law when, quite irrespectve of the demonstration of matrimonial offence, both parties thoroughly despise the institution of marriage so as to show by their conduct that they hold it in contempt. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West spoke of a unilateral example; they are not quite so rare as hon. Members may think, and I have known many bilateral examples in which both parties have played fast and loose with the institu- tion of marriage. The law at the moment is that they forfeit their right, even if their marriage breaks down, and irrespective of matrimonial offence, to have their marriage wound up by the courts. I hope that not only the hon. Member for Bootle but also other hon. Members will acquit me of levity if I draw a rather absurd analogy and say that the behaviour of both parties in the past is such that, as it were, under the existing law they have their licence endorsed and perhaps even taken away. In other words, it is said that their behaviour brings marriage into contempt and they are not free to undertake it again.

We are abolishing that safeguard for the institution of marriage, and I have considerable reservations whether that is wise. I do not think that that by itself would lead me to condemn the Bill, but it is an issue which requires a little further consideration when the Bill is sent from this place to another place.

I have one further comment to add, in the spirit, I hope, in which I have approached the matter throughout. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), I make no complaint of the Government for giving time for the Bill. It seemed to me quite inevitable, the feeling of the House being what it was, that the Government should seek to give effect to it by giving time. We have been through a critical Motion on the subject, and I shall not revive the passions which it aroused.

But I say to the Solicitor-General, as the representative of the Government, that I should have been far happier about the debate if he had curtailed one of our recesses for two days than I feel now that the debate has been held right through the middle of the night. On whichever side one comes down in any of the disputed issues—and I am in some ways impartial, not only in speaking from the Box but in fact, for there is a great deal to be said on both sides on many of the issues—I do not believe that the public quite understand why we are legislating about an institution such as marriage, which is one of the more permanent features of our social life, by ordeal by marathon. I do not think that is a desirable way to proceed, and I hope the Solicitor-General will convey that thought to the Leader of the House, because I am sure that there will be other occasions on which the Government wish to give time to important social questions on which they do not wish openly to take sides.

I have one other point to make, and I make it, again, from the point of view of law and legislation rather than of conviction about the issue. We have to face the fact that we cannot afford constantly to be fiddling about with the law. If we want the law to be respected, it must have a certain durability. I am not suggesting that it should be permanent or unalterable, but if the idea is that we have only to find something slightly wrong with legislation to say that we can alter it fundamentally, the respect for the law in this country will diminish—and it is diminishing to an alarming extent. Whatever the outcome of the Bill, I hope that we shall not have too many more matrimonial Bills, either from the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) whose Parliamentary skill is enormous, or from anybody else, altering too frequently the fundamental nature of our matrimonial institutions.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Delargy

I shall vote against the Third Reading of the Bill on the sole and simple ground that it is unsatisfactory. That is the only ground on which I have any right to vote against it.

Some people seem to think that only a religious fanatic can object to the proposals of the Bill. That is untrue and it is unjust. When an Amendment was moved in the early hours of the morning seeking to deny civil divorce to persons who had celebrated their marriage according to certain religious tenets, I spoke against it, and had it been put to a Division, which it was not, I should have voted against it.

One cannot enforce religious belief or practice by legal sanctions. Divorce law in a pluralist, secular society is necessary. But such law must provide genuine relief and should protect family life and the children. It must reinforce the sense of personal responsibility and also protect society from unwarranted burdens. To achieve all this, the law should strengthen marriage as a social institution. It should provide safeguards in matrimonial property and maintenance, and it should offer guidance for decent behaviour. I do not think that the Bill does that. It bristles with inadequacies and inconsistencies. We have been discussing some of them for the last 12 hours. Indeed, it is just 12 hours since I started to talk on the subject.

There is no need to repeat all the inconsistencies now. If I tried to do so, Mr. Speaker, you would rule me out of order. But I believe that my hon. Friends—and they are indeed my hon. Friends—the sponsors of the Bill are not themselves wholly satisfied with it. I do not know why it was thrust upon us before it was put into a proper state. Whether it can still be improved, I do not know. I hope that it will be improved. But in its present state I shall vote against it.

12.58 p.m.

Sir T. Beamish

I shall have no hesitation, either, in voting against the Third Reading. I abstained on Second Reading because I felt that many good features of the Bill were outweighed by one really bad feature which is contained in Clause 2(1)(e). I was also slightly critical of the total lack of information at the time—the situation is not much better now—about adequate maintenance for divorced women and children. There is no improvement worth speaking of in either respect now that we have reached Third Reading.

My first main objection arises, as does the objection of many other hon. Members, out of Clause 2(1)(e). The Bill makes it clear that irretrievable breakdown should be the only ground for dissolving a marriage. However, it does not follow that in practically every case of irretrievable breakdown the marriage should automatically be dissolved, although that is the effect of the subsection.

The Bill also reflects the great anxiety that most of us have to remove the elements of guilt and innocence which sometimes bedevil our present divorce system, but not as much as is sometimes pretended. The Bill seems to swing much too far the other way. A man or woman would be able, as a result of the Bill, to extricate himself or herself from a solemn contract of which he or she was a willing party by committing an offence—by unilaterally breaking that contract—to enable him or her to gain the support of the law in having it annulled. The matter is as straightforward as that, and I do not like it one bit. It is bound to have the effect of unnecessarily increasing the number of broken homes.

At the same time, the subsection would enable couples so disposed to enter marriage on the basis of what I would call a "trial run". It would remove the bar to the unscrupulous and a defence from the innocent and gullible—perhaps not in a large number of cases, but certainly in some. These features are, it must be agreed, thoroughly bad in principle, whether applied to marriage or to any other binding promise given in good faith.

This proposal will also in many cases be harsh and unjust in its application. If a man or woman kept his or her side of the bargain and tried to make a success of the marriage, he or she surely has a moral right to object to the marriage being automatically dissolved. In my view, to deny such a right is seriously to risk eroding the whole idea of marriage.

In the case of a woman, she would suffer the loss of her married status and the undoubted loss of her financial and other rights, including, as has been mentioned on a number of occasions, her pension rights. Hon. Members have particularly had in mind pensions from Commonwealth Governments because a widow can in many circumstances lose her rights absolutely. She would suffer, too, all the misery that is part and parcel of being a deserted wife and, of course, in many cases the children would stand to suffer as well. It is a pity that new Clause 9 was not added to the Bill, as it would largely have corrected what I consider to be some serious defect in it, although I will not pursue this matter now.

My next main objection to the Measure has been expressed by many hon. Members who will be voting against its Third Reading. It is that the Bill will not be operative at the time when it should operate; that is, after receiving the Royal Assent. We do not know what provision will be made for financial support, although we gather that there is to be another Measure. We do not know for certain when it will be introduced, precisely on what principles it will be based, or even whether it will be a Government Bill. If this information has been given, I am not aware of it. This all seems to suggest that we are in a ridiculous state of affairs.

We should have discussed together the grounds for divorce and the maintenance of women and children. These subjects should, to use the words of the Solicitor-General, have been interwoven. I regret that this has not been the case, and this is a serious criticism of the Bill.

I emphasise what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said about the way in which the Government have handled the Bill. We have had a fantastically long sitting. For 22½ hours we have been sitting continuously. This tends to bring Parliament into disrepute. Everybody knows that no hon. Member is capable of doing his best work in circumstances of this kind. Anybody who has been awake all night must be thoroughly tired. In any event, we have had much tiring work to do before tonight, earlier in the week.

Only about one quarter of the House has, as a result of Thursday night being devoted to this subject, voted during the Report stage. In other words, only one quarter of Parliament has taken part in discussing this extremely important social Measure, which must have far-reaching consequences. This is a deplorable state of affairs, as a result of which we may not have reached the right results. Many hon. Members have, for understandable reasons, been unable to cancel constituency engagements. We have not had a proper cross-section of Parliamentary opinion devoted to this matter as a result of the Government's handling of the Bill, and I regard this as scandalous.

Coupled with this, the Government have given priority to the Bill without accepting responsibility for it. There must be something wrong about that. There has been a good deal of backstage support—[Interruption.]—and I judge, from my observations during the night, when the organisation was very good, that the Government machine was not wholly inactive behind the scenes. [An. HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] If that is rubbish, I am glad to hear it.

Mr. Alec Jones

I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Government machine was not active at all during the night. Those of my hon. Friends who have supported me in the Measure have spent a great deal of time, not as members of the Government but as ordinary back benchers, gathering support for the Bill. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is paying tribute to the efficiency of the machine, I assure him that his tribute is to my hon. Friends who have acted in that capacity and not to the Government machine as such.

Sir T. Beamish

I accept, of course, what the hon. Gentleman says.

To put it in a different way—I do not think that this statement will be challenged—the Government's position of neutrality in this has been a sham. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance and as I have no evidence to support the remark I made just prior to his intervention, I willingly withdraw it. It would have been better if a Measure of this immense importance had been a Government Bill. This view may not be widely shared, but I do not see why it should not have been a Government Measure.

I will not comment on a number of other questions which are still causing me much anxiety. I would have liked to have had more information, and some good guesses based on the best knowledge that is available, about the likely rise in the divorce rate as a result of the Bill. I would have liked to have been told more about the overcrowding in the courts that will certainty result, and I would have liked to have been told a lot more about the cost to the taxpayer of the supplementary benefits which will have to be paid because of the larger number of broken marriages that will result from the Measure. These matters have not been adequately debated, despite the enormous amount of time that has been devoted to the Bill and the care given to it by the sponsors.

I am not happy about so much of the Bill that I will certainly vote against its Third Reading. I hope, meanwhile, that it will be improved before it reaches the Statute Book and that another place will regard it as its duty to scrutinise the Bill carefully. Because of the major blemish to which I referred and because of what I regard as its extremely bad timing, I will oppose the Bill's Third Reading.

1.9 p.m.

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

Throughout our discussion of the Bill I have not been greedy in occupying the time of the House. I wish, briefly, to congratulate the sponsor on having conducted the Measure through such a long and difficult period of gestation. I am sure that hon. Members will, whether they agree or disagree with the Bill's contents, acknowledge his patience and good humour throughout these difficult deliberations.

I am glad about today, for it is in some ways a small turning point in Britain's social history. I am sure that the women of the future will rejoice at what the House of Commons has done today. I say advisedly the women of the future because one effect of the Bill is surely an endeavour to raise the status of both parties to a marriage. It is part of the whole attitude of our demand for higher status for equal pay and greater opportunities in the fields of professional and working life. We cannot go on demanding to be treated as the financial appendages of unloving husbands while, at the same time, we are demanding university places, higher pay and all the privileges that go with it.

I see the Bill as part of that pattern, but, of course, I am aware, as every hon. Member is aware, of the point of view of the older women who are left alone and who have been brought up in an old tradition of dependence, of those to whom the breakdown of marriage is always a most difficult and traumatic experience. I am absolutely in agreement with those who say that pari passu with this Measure there must be further measures in social security, further consideration given to the insurance status of married women—which is being thought of by the Government—and more help given to women whose marriages collapse, not because they are guilty or innocent but because they are wives and mothers with family and domestic responsibilities.

These responsibilities are, of course, widely shared. I must not trespass the rules of order to elaborate that further. I am convinced that in spite of the difficulties which many women, and many men, have to face when their marriages collapse, such difficulties can arise equally from desertion, separation or widowhood. The last figures from the old National Assistance Board showed that the Board was helping 58,000 deserted mothers with children, whereas it was helping only 14,000 divorced women with children. It is at the point of breakdown and separation that financial hardship comes.

To suggest that it will come after only five years of separate living because of a Clause in this Bill, is economic unreality. The woman who has been deserted and left on her own for five years will either have had a court order which is being paid, or she will be getting social security money on her own. It may be if the matter were regularised under the new Bill that the court would see that better provision was made where possible for many of these people. At the heart of this financial problem we have to look at it in the context of the present social problem of the fatherless family and domestic and family responsibilities.

I am glad that we are getting away from the hypocrisy of the guilty or innocent party. This has always been a most artificial polarisation. We cannot indicate guilt on one side and innocence on the other when we are dealing with the strongest forms of human emotions, thought and relationships. We none of us know what are the strains and tensions which produce certain marital situations.

Although I realise that much of the criticism of this Bill is concerned with the economics of marriage—and I strongly support the Bill as it is—it is perfectly right to look elsewhere for these things to be done. I say that because the legislation which I want to see which will have to do with the status of women, not just married women, cannot be put into the context of a divorce Bill. I want the property of the woman who stays married, either happily or unhappily, to be protected. There is a great deal we need to do to settle the question of widows' property rights.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the loss of the status of marriage for a woman as if it were a serious disadvantage. I have had many bitter letters from women asking me to tell them what is so marvellous about the status of marriage when their lazy, good-for-nothing husbands can put on their income tax returns the earnings of their wives and the wife's earnings are deemed under our law to be those of her husband. Therefore, it is possible to question the inevitability of the splendour of this status.

What we must seek is more common justice for men and women over the widest possible field and within the centre of the family there is special responsibility. I assure hon. Members who disagree with me that I shall strongly support the other Measures which I think should inevitably follow the Bill, but the Bill is a beginning and I am glad that it is to be passed today.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Emery

Nobody, I think, whatever his views about the Bill, can claim that it is perfect. I have sat here for 15½ hours and this is the first time I have risen to speak on the Bill. I do so because I think there are a number of facts which need to be made absolutely clear by some of those who will be supporting the Bill, particularly after some of the allegations which have been made by some of the Bill's opponents.

It must be made clear that the supporters of the Bill have examined their consciences just as deeply, just as fully, and just as completely as those who may be opposing it. It has been discouraging to me to hear, perhaps only by innuendo, suggestions—which are entirely wrong—that we who may be supporting the Bill wish to damage or undermine the institution of marriage. That certainly is not my wish, and I believe that in no way is it the wish of those who have brought the Bill forward.

I begin in my support for the Third Reading with what has been my basic approach in my thinking on the Bill. It is that the present divorce law is a much worse mess than anything that is in the Bill and that has been associated with legal deceit of the worst kind that could be associated with the law. Therefore it seems to be a realistic, logical and commonsense advance that we can begin accepting for the first time in this country that the breakdown of a marriage should be established as the reason for a divorce.

It is necessary to repeat time and again that the concept that in divorce there is only one guilty person is just not the case. I do not believe there is one case in 5,000 where blame can be placed on only one spouse. Therefore, there is the sharing of the problem of the breakdown. This should be analysed, and proof of absolute breakdown should be a reason for final divorce. That seems a major step forward which today even the Church is willing to accept.

However, quite clearly many problems still exist, and it is vital that the proposers and supporters of the Bill should be the first to admit this. The problems of married women's property and of finance and State pensions are very great.

I am sorry to say that I do not believe the Government come out of this with much credit. If they had taken the lead in trying to deal with these problems earlier, that would have made the whole position and the passage of this Bill much more logical and sensible. Hon Members should not, when voting for the Third Reading, be asked to take the Government's assurances rather as a pig in a poke. We have no understanding of how these will tie in with the Bill. There will be severe criticism of the Government for their handling of the matter. Obviously, this will not be the last occasion on which social legislation of this type will emerge. Many problems would be avoided if in future the Government were to sponsor such Bills and have the Whips off. Much of the extra work that has been placed on backbenchers throughout the passage of the Bill would have been avoided if that had happened. With social reforms of this magnitude, the whole Government machinery should be available to ensure that it is as good as possible.

I wish to discuss shortly three major issues which have been dealt with in the Bill. First, there is some misunderstanding amongst certain women's organisations about the ability of a deserted wife to present her case to the court. There is concern that her position will not be tenable. Clause 2(2) provides that on a petition for divorce both petitioner and respondent may place facts before the court and that it shall be the duty of the court to inquire into these. It is important that this should be widely known.

I am not happy about the absolute provision for the protection of the person with the strongest religious views who believes that divorce is wrong. However, because I realised the background, I supported the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). I believe that the sponsors are sincere in wanting to ensure as much protection as possible, but the problem still exists.

It has been suggested that the provisions in the Bill are terrifyingly inadequate to ensure a fair financial settlement for a deserted wife. As the Bill will do away with much fear of and resentment at divorce, I believe that many deserted wives will, by using the provisions of the Bill, be able to obtain better financial provision than they have at the moment, better than living apart and having maintenance sent to them by their husbands who have deserted them. The financial provisions in the Bill may well provide the greatest safeguard for such persons.

Although the Bill is not perfect, it is much better than the present law. It is a balance of legal wisdom and common sense, and contains many safeguards designed to alleviate the hardship that exists in our present structure on divorce. Although I have doubts, I intend to vote for the Bill. I think that within 10 years the Bill will be accepted as reasonable, sensible, and even constructive.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I know two good reasons why I should not make a speech on Third Reading. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen might know more. First, I have had plenty of opportunities, through the graciousness of the Chair, to address the House during the night. Secondly, I feel very fatigued.

I am sorry that during the brief moments whilst I was saying that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) left the Chamber. I should like the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) to convey to the right hon. and learned Gentleman my unreserved apologies for having accused him of levity. On reflection, I realise that I was wrong to do so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be the last person that I would accuse of any base action or thought. There is no hon. Member opposite for whom I have a higher regard.

In the course of his advice to the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that people like myself should not expect too much from the point of view of theological standards, that they were almost impossible to apply in the legal sense. We agree with that. I do not want to impose on anybody else my beliefs or any standards I might have inherited purely by accident, but I am prepared to defend those standards. We must start to take notice when important people say, with a glibness that is almost unbelievable in front of millions of people on B.B.C. television, that they cannot afford the luxury of God.

Although people like myself do not wish to impose on anybody else anything that we believe in, we assure them that if they start to attack our standards—there are many societies which make a positive stand against us—they can expect nothing but steadfastness and resolution from us. I name the Humanist Society and other societies.

Mr. Peter Mahon

Secular societies.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Yes, secular societies of all kinds which are springing up. At one time such societies were not anti-us; they were indifferent to people like ourselves. Today they are completely against us and anything that we try to do.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

In the interests of historical accuracy, may I point out to my hon. Friend a fact of which he is probably not aware. Although the British Humanist Association is a new organisation, the National Secular Society has a long tradition and history dating back to the middle of the 19th century.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I remind both hon. Members that we are discussing the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Mahon

I shall not pursue it further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall take up little more of the time of the House.

I am concerned about a new doctrine which was introduced into our earlier debate but has not yet been the subject of comment on Third Reading. No less a person than my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said to us, and to the country, that there was a new doctrine that lies were permissible, that lies themselves—this was it—were a proof of the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. Since it came from that source, in a speech at the Dispatch Box, the country must take that statement with the seriousness that it deserves.

Even in a world that has lost a lot of its vision, there must be some standards of truth, of honesty and of integrity. I could hardly believe that it could be said from the Government Front Bench that theories or behaviour of that kind are to be accepted in our law courts, and that lies will be accepted as evidence for divorce.

I do not like falling out with the Government. I am part of the movement which made the Government. But, now and again, a man must stand on what he believes to be right. I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has returned to the Chamber now. He will not hear anything refreshing or new from me, and I am always sorry that he is my colleague in Liverpool when I have anything nasty to say. However, in spite of his reassurance that the Government's position was one of neutrality, I just do not believe it, and I shall need a lot more assuring before I do. I do not expect my hon. and learned Friend to reassure me now, but I can only say that I do not accept it. I have been listening to arguments and business going forward in the House for many years now. I am not one to make a statement lightly. I believe that I have the best of truth in that matter.

That is all I have to say, save that it would be churlish not to add a word to my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson), for whom I did some little bits of work on one side of the argument or the other. He is very capable and businesslike in pursuit of his Parliamentary duties. Also, in spite of my conviction that this is a bad Bill, I add a word to two others of my hon. Friends, first, the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones), for the manner in which he conducted himself throughout all our proceedings on the Bill, and second, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), whom all hon. Members are very pleased to see after his recovery from his illness.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

With one at least of the points made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) I agree. Very few people in this country, and perhaps not many in the House, fully understand what the Bill will do to our law. I shall not vote against the Bill on Third Reading because it is, as it has been described, a "Casanova's charter". Casanovas do not need charters, for one thing. In any case, Parliament is not the keeper of the nation's conscience. But Parliament is the maker of the national's laws, and the Bill would make a revolutionary change in our law because it would make lawful for the first time divorce by mutual consent.

I must refer to the Government's behaviour on the Bill. It is monstrous that this revolutionary change in the law should have to be debated through the whole of one night. They talk of their neutrality. The mask of neutrality which the Government have chosen to wear is painfully transparent. One of the unfortunate results of their behaviour is that a great many hon. Members have not been able to take part or to record their votes. It is not their fault. They are unavoidably absent. The whole thing is made a mockery. It is no good complimenting the Government on making it possible for us to dispose of the Bill throughout the night, in view of the procedural difficulties. The procedural difficulties could have been eliminated if the Government had had the courage either to support or to oppose the Measure.

Those who say that we already have divorce by consent are, wittingly or not, deceiving us, because, although we know that it oftens happens that way, it is not lawful. If connivance or collusion between the parties can be proved, they cannot obtain a decree of divorce. But the Bill would make it lawful, for the first time in our history, for a couple to part and, after two years of separation, have a divorce if both agree.

Far worse is Clause 2(1)(e), which provides that either party may divorce the other after five years, whether the other likes it or not. Any wife, young or old, fair or plain, angel or termagant, may be put away at will, and the only proposal in the Bill for her financial provision and that of her children is that the provision made by the husband shall be the best that can be made in the circumstances". My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has dealt so adequately with that aspect of the matter that I need not detain the House on it. How about a dozen hon. Lady Members have found it possible to vote for the Bill, I shall never understand. In nine cases out of ten, it will be the wife who will suffer the humiliation and bitterness and who will have the endless anxiety of trying to secure provision for her middle and old age. If the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) really believes that the Bill is an unloving and unloved wives' charter, I can only say that she will be bitterly disappointed when she sees its effects, if it reaches the Statute Book.

In a largely secular country, one should not expect Parliament to insist that marriage shall be a life-long union, although Christians, no doubt, will continue to honour that ideal. But, if it becomes law, the Bill will cause a fundamental transformation in our way of life and will deal a mortal blow at the institutions of marriage and the family on which I have always believed our national happiness and stability were founded. I shall vote against its Third Reading.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. William Wilson (Coventry, South)

I shall not detain the House long because, like many other hon. Members who have been here through the night, I am beginning to feel that it is time I went home to bed. But I do not want this opportunity to pass without paying tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber at the moment.

Those of us who sat on the Standing Committee last Session, and again this Session, have come to regard the right hon. and learned Gentleman with great appreciation. The arguments which he deployed against the Bill have been consistent and logical, and he has always conducted himself towards my fellow sponsors and myself with the greatest of regard and courtesy. It is only right that today, as we are coming to the end of this phase of the Bill, tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman should be paid.

It is right to make the point, as several hon. Members have already done, that the numbers voting this day have not represented the great proportion of the House, and it could be said that those who have voted today do not truly represent the opinion of the House. But we are entitled to say from our side that on the Second Reading last Session and the Second Reading this Session there were votes in which the whole House was able to participate. All the time, the voting proportion has been the same, so I think that we can from our side truly say that the vote which is taking place today, although not a full representation of the whole House, is a fair representation of the feeling that has shown itself time and again.

I was the sponsor of the Bill last Session and I know how right hon. Members are when they say that it would probably have been better if this had been a Government Measure. I know from personal experience the responsibilities that the individual who is the sponsor carries. Indeed, when one is the sponsor of a Bill like this, one never seems to forget it. This is why it is that the Government should have taken over the responsibility of a Measure of this size. Last year, I stood before the Taj Mahal in the moonlight with my wife and all I could think about was, "The man who built this did not, with all his 14 wives, have a divorce Bill to think about."

As a law student, 30 years ago, I had the job of answering questions on the Act which we came to know and we still know as the Herbert Act. I can honestly say to law students of today that this Bill is far more understandable than that Act and much easier to answer questions about from the examinations board. Above all, I am convinced that the Bill will fill an important place in our divorce law and bring about an improvement that has long been necessary.

1.43 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell

I shall vote against the Third Reading, but unhappily and with no enthusiasm because I am aware of the hardship that is caused by the shabby continuation of a marriage that is a marriage in name only and has long since been dead in fact. I accept, as many of my hon. Friends who are going to vote against the Bill accept, that the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage is the right criterion. The basic concept of the Bill is right but the way in which, regrettably, the sponsors have consistently refused to accept Amendments which would have made it acceptable to a much larger number of hon. Members means that I find myself unable to support the Bill.

I will give an example. Accepting as I do that the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage is the right criterion, how could the sponsors ask us to accept that two years is a sufficient or irretrievable breakdown? It is a case of, "Till death us do part or two years have passed." That is not acceptable to me within the criteria that the Bill has set out to bring into operation.

Then there is the whole subject of financial safeguards for divorced women. These are wholly insufficient. There is the point, of course, that we have had the abivalent situation in which the half help the Bill but will not accept responsibility for it, which means that we have not been able to get all the advice we should have had about major matters that may arise. What about the widow's pension that goes to the wrong person? There has been a divorce and the man has remarried, but it happens that, 12 months later, he has a coronary and dies. The whole widow's pension goes to the woman he has been married to for 12 months, with no children. The wife who has lived and worked with him, and has had children by him, has all the problems of the matrimonial home left as a legacy to her while someone else gets the income which should have gone to maintain it.

The position of the Government on this matter is difficult to understand. They clearly support the Bill but equally they clearly believe it to be unsatisfactory because the Solicitor-General has told us that they propose to hold up its operation because it is not satisfactory until new legislation has been introduced following the report of the Law Commission on deserted wives. The Government do not think that the Bill is ready to be brought in and they want to hold it up until other legislation is on the Statute Book. It is an extraordinary situation in which to put the House. The Government think the Bill unsatisfactory and give an assurance that legislation will be brought in but they cannot tell us what will be in that legislation. They ask us to take it on trust and on that basis put this Bill on the Statute Book.

I find myself in an incredibly difficult situation in being asked to vote for a Bill on the basis of an assurance of future legislation which in any case this Government may conceivably not have time to implement. Therefore, with considerable unhappiness at doing so, because the sponsors have not been prepared to accept Amendments, and because of the reason I have just outlined, I regret that I am unable to support the Bill on Third Reading.

1.47 p.m.

Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)

It looks at if I shall have almost the last word and it will be brief.

Once again a small group of reformers, whose sincerity, integrity and enthusiasm are not in doubt, has forced through the House a social reform Measure. It has been forced through in the absence of three-quarters of the House with a number of supporters totalling less than 20 per cent. of the membership of the House and against sustained opposition. But this Bill is different from the two other Measures, for two very important reasons.

I should think that 99 per cent. of the population do not feel themselves involved in the Acts to change the laws of homosexuality and abortion. But this Bill affects practically every person in the country. That is one major difference. The other is that the Bill seeks to disadvantage people who have entered into commitments voluntarily and who can now be removed from those commitments despite the fact that this might be against their will.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who has played a remarkable part throughout, and whom I congratulate, has told us that he has had thousands of letters in support of his stand, and I am sure that all the sponsors of the Bill have had a similar experience. What he has not told us is what his constituents have said to him. What do the ordinary working men, the ordinary, respectable married people in his constituency and elsewhere, think?

In this connection, I point out a rather remarkable thing. The Bill, by and large, is a Southerners' Bill. I do not think we have heard one speech in support of it from the great regions of the North-West or the North-East of England, of which I have the honour to represent a small portion.

Mr. Abse

I gather that the hon. Gentleman has been asking what my constituents think. I can assure him that every time I introduce a Divorce Bill, as the election results reveal, my majority goes up.

Mr. Fortescue

Those two entirely unsupported phenomena are not quite relevant to what I was saying. I know what my constituents think about the Bill, because I have discussed it with hundreds of them. My constituents, and, I suspect, many hon. Members' constituents in the North of England, know an unfair Bill when they see one and they know a fiddle when they see one. They will hold this Bill against the Government because they regard it as a Government-supported Bill—maybe rightly. They will feel that they have been submitted to unfair legislation, in that spouses who have no wish to be divorced can now be divorced against their will. This is a talking point where I come from, and I suspect that it is a talking point in many other parts of the country, especially the North.

I shall have no hesitation in voting against the Bill, because its effects will creep under the door of every matrimonial home in the country. In my view, the Bill should never be on the Statute Book in this form.

1.53 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

I shall delay the House for but a few moments, although I have sat here for many hours.

I say, quite firmly, that I shall vote against Third Reading for reasons which have been well expressed by those on both sides who oppose the Bill, but also because I see it as part of a pattern of gradual erosion of the standards of christian upbringing which are being forced upon this country by a small minority, the Humanists among them, mentioned by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). We know that the next target is the removal of religious education in schools; so the House must be ready for that when it comes. I want to come back later, though not much later, to this gradual erosion of the standards by which most of us have been brought up by a minority in the country and, strangely enough, forced through by the votes of a minority in this House.

It has been suggested that the object or the effect of the Bill will be to strengthen marriage. I cannot imagine that a young couple entering into marriage, whenever the Bill comes into force, and knowing that they have only to separate for two years and live apart to agree to the break-up of the marriage, would feel that that is strengthening marriage in their eyes. It almost makes it a trial marriage for however short a period people might like—and two years is a short period in which to break up.

On the numbers affected by it, I feel that the sponsors, like the sponsors of the Abortion Act, will find that, though they have been thinking only of hard cases, once they open the floodgates the numbers will be much larger than they have ever imagined. This has happened with the demand for abortions and it will happen with the demand for divorces. It will not be the hard cases about which we have heard throughout the night and on previous days. There will be a greater demand, and the law courts, as has been said, will be under pressure, as will the public purse, when these financial arrangements are made.

I turn now to the Government's arrangements for putting on this type of Bill, as they have in the past, at 10 o'clock at night. Not only does it result in a small number of hon. Members being here because of commitments already entered into in their constituencies; it results in merely the dedicated protagonists and antagonists of the Bill being here. This may be all very well. It is why we get the same kind of majority appearing all the time. But it also means that, as the Bill is taken at a time when most hon. Members cannot be here, we do not have the leavening of the uncommitted to listen to the arguments and vote on the Amendments according to those arguments. In the other place, when the Abortion Act was taken in normal time and many Members were present, very sensible Amendments were made as a result of uncommitted Members listening to the arguments and voting on the Amendments at the end of each debate. We have here a position in which committed hon. Members on both sides have been voting automatically either for or against, with no one among the uncommitted voting. This is a bad thing. I hope that the Government will remember this when they have future reforms, particularly of a moral and social nature, to introduce in this House.

I hope, furthermore, that they will consider, if they have any more up their sleeve, making them Government Bills. Friday is not the best day for great moral issues to be debated for the same reason, that many hon. Members go to their distant constituencies on Thursday night. Often they have commitments which have been entered into long before the announcement of the week's business is issued. Therefore, on a Friday there is an equally poor attendance. This is bad for great issues like the one that we have been debating through this long sitting.

I close with this plea to the Government. If they have any more reforms for which they have a yen—and they obviously had a yen for this one—to get through the House, I hope that they will take the responsible course of accepting those Measures in their own name and will come to the House with them in normal time, with the Whips off, so that the full House may debate, listen to arguments, and vote accordingly.

1.57 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for leaving the debate for about an hour on other business, but I have followed the proceedings most attentively through the whole night and, indeed, most of the morning. I promise that I shall not be more than seven or eight minutes.

I feel so deeply about the Bill that I should be cheating myself were I not to express my thoughts. I do not like the Bill at all. The more I listened to the debate during the night, the less I liked it.

I cannot put the matter better than to quote my own life in relation to it. I have been married for 36 years. I suppose that in wifely terms I have been something of a scallywag in that I have been associated with trade union and political movements to the detriment of my home for 25 to 30 years of that period. Yet, notwithstanding that, my three children have all been through university. My wife has played a tremendous part in bringing that about. I suppose that I have been nothing more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet, if I understand the Bill correctly, I could take to myself a floosie, I could live with her for five years, and I could then divorce my wife. That would be an almost infernal reward for the kind of services that I have had from her throughout my life. I suggest to the House, and I strongly suggest to both sponsors of the Bill, that that seems to be the morality of the gutter. I say that very definitely.

Mr. Alec Jones

Surely when my hon. Friend took this floosie, he, by that act, would have destroyed his marriage.

Mr. Dan Jones

I do not think so. I want to press on, because I have given Mr. Speaker a promise to be brief. I persist in saying that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent my doing what I have illustrated, and I should have dished a perfectly good woman into the gutter in the process, which is why I used the term.

We have heard from the Solicitor-General that the Bill will result in certain costs. It has been said that this Measure represents one law for the rich, and another for the poor. Apparently the poor will be subsidised from our social security system, but the law officers have not as yet put that legislation forward. This really is putting the cart before the horse, and, quite frankly, is hardly playing the game.

We know—and I take strong exception to this—that the demands made on that Department are particularly intense. We know that very shortly there will be an increased charge upon the industrial strength of the nation to redeem those charges, and I humbly suggest to the sponsors of the Bill that this is hardly the time to get that Department involved in further expenditure of the kind that we have deduced as a result of the Bill.

I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). We know that the Bill will go to the other place and then come back with suggested Amendments. I hope the Government will realise how deeply many people feel about this issue, and will not allow those Amendments to be discussed through the night. As the hon. Gentleman said, only the protagonists and antagonists have been here, but we know without a shadow of doubt that many right hon. and hon. Members who have deep misgivings about the Bill cannot face an all-night sitting to do the necessary combat.

If the Government are to give more time to the Bill, and I raise no objection to that—that is a privilege to enable hon. Members to keep Private Members' Bills going—I earnestly appeal to them to ensure that future discussions are carried on at a time when the House can be full to discuss this issue in the way that it ought to be discussed. If necessary, we should take two or three days off the long recess to do so. In my view, and in the view of perhaps the majority of hon. Members, this Bill gives rise to misgivings, and I hope that the Government will provide an opportunity for the House fully to discharge its obligations in the way that I have indicated.

2.3 p.m.

Mr. Abse

I shall not keep the House for very long. I am glad that we are reaching the end of our deliberations. Despite some of the jeremiads of some hon. Gentlemen opposite, I believe that this Bill will bring some rationality into our diverce law, which has brought the administration of justice into disrepute. It is a Bill which will bring out of the twilight world perhaps a quarter of a million people who today are denied the right to marry, and will bestow married parents on 200,000 children who are now illegitimate. It will rid the law, at least partially, of the doctrine of the matrimonial offence, and pay attention to the problem of marriage breakdown and so activate marriage mending and healing, and in that process, after six years of helping to bring the Bill to the Statute Book, I should like to participate.

This Measure has precipitated other Bills which will alter the property relationship for the benefit and protection of wives, and it is likely in the long run also to be able to cause a review of the whole position in National Insurance of divorced women.

We have steered the Bill to make certain that it is neither, as its opponents have declared, a Casanova's charter, nor a Jezebel's justification. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) for having taken the lead here, and for all the co-operation that he has given, and indeed comradeship that he has provided, in trying to get this Bill on to the Statute Book.

I thank, too, the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson), who took the initiative last year, and who has worked so loyally with those who wished to obtain the objective of at long last getting the Bill through the House. Lastly, I thank, and indeed

Division No. 265.] AYES [2.10 p.m.
Abse, Leo Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Nott, John
Albu, Austen Hamling, William Ogden, Eric
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Haseldine, Norman Oram, Albert E.
Archer, Peter Hobden, Dennis Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn.)
Barnes, Michael Hooson, Emlyn Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Bell, Ronald Hordern, Peter Paget, R. T.
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Howie, W. Parker, John (Dagenham)
Boyden, James Huckfield, Leslie Pavitt, Laurence
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Hunt, John Pike, Miss Mervyn
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Jackson, Colin (B'h'sce & Spenb'gh) Rees, Merlyn
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Richard, Ivor
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Cant, R. B. Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Roebuck, Roy
Carmichael, Neil Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Eiwyn (W. Ham, S.) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Chapman, Donald Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Scott, Nicholas
Clark, Henry Kenyon, Clifford Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Coe, Denis Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Concannon, J. D. Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Crawshaw, Richard Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Luard, Evan Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Lubbock, Eric Silverman, Julius
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Sinclair, Sir George
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Macdonald, A. H. Snow, Julian
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Ellis, John Mackie, John Taverne, Dick
Emery, Peter Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
English, Michael Marks, Kenneth Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Ennals, David Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Vickers, Dame Joan
Faulds, Andrew Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Whitaker, Ben
Fisher, Nigel Mikardo, Ian Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Millan, Bruce Winnick, David
Ford, Ben Moonman, Eric
Forrester, John Morris, John (Aberavon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Freeson, Reginald Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Mr. Peter M. Jackson and
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Murray, Albert Mr. Christopher Price.
Gregory, Arnold Newens, Stan

salute, the opponents of the Bill with whom I have formed personal friendships which did not exist before. They have performed the task which an opposition group should perform in keeping us wholly on our toes and scrutinising the Bill in every way.

I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), and to the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) who did so much in the last Session. I pay tribute, too, to the hon. and learned Members for Southport (Mr. Percival) and Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) who have been protagonists but have always behaved in the way that one would expect House of Commons men to behave.

Mr. Speaker, I now make a suggestion of which I am sure you will approve. I hope that the time has come when we can all go home to our marriage beds and to our long-suffering wives.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 109, Noes 55.

Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Harvie Anderson, Miss Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Alldritt, Walter Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Russell, Sir Ronald
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Hill, J. E. B. Silvester, Frederick
Beamish, Colonel Sir Tufton Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Small, William
Body, Richard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Summerskill, Hn Dr. Shirley
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Kerby, Capt. Henry Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Bullus, Sir Eric Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Tuck, Raphael
Corfield, F. V. Knight, Mrs. Jill van Straubenzee, W. R.
Delargy, Hugh Lane, David Ward, Dame Irene
Foley, Maurice Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Weatherill, Bernard
Fortescue, Tim Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Longden, Gilbert Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Goodhew, Victor McAdden, Sir Stephen Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Grant, Anthony Maddan, Martin Woof, Robert
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Worsley, Marcus
Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Onslow, Cranley Mr. Bruce Campbell and
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Percival, Ian Sir Cyril Black.
Harris, Reader (Heston) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
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