HC Deb 09 May 1969 vol 783 cc923-39

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [2nd May], That the Clause (Voluntary restriction of divorce), proposed on Consideration of the Bill, as amended, be read a Second time:— (1) This section shall apply if before or after marriage the parties thereto have agreed in writing that their marriage shall be a lifelong union dissoluble only by death; Provided that no particular form of words shall be required for such agreement. (2) Where a respondent satisfies the court that he and the petitioner have entered into such an agreement as is mentioned in subsection (1) of this section then the court shall not grant a decree of divorce, but shall, if satisfied of the existence of any such fact as is mentioned in paragraphs (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of section 2 of this Act, and if so requested by the petitioner, grant a decree of judicial separation.—[Mr. Bruce Campbell.]

Question again proposed.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Last Friday I was giving a few reasons why I thought that possibly the new Clause was not drafted with the customary precision and exactitude which at least we on this side of the House have learned to associate with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell). I illustrated one or two frailties which I thought I could perceive in the new Clause.

There is one weakness which I can detect in the Clause. Before I support it, I should like to know how my hon. and learned Friend proposes to make married couples, and couples who are about to be married, aware of their entitlement in relation to a declaration of permanency. This is a matter of fundamental importance. I am anxious to know what machinery will be put into operation to inform those who can benefit by such a declaration of permanency of their rights. Does my hon. and learned Friend envisage that the best way of communicating this information to the general public—and the general public would have to be informed—is through the newspapers or by printing it on the marriage certificate? If my hon. and learned Friend thinks, as I believe he does judging from the movement of his head just now, that putting it on the marriage certificate would be an adequate way of communicating it, does he feel that it should be printed on the front of the marriage certificate where it can best be seen by those who sign the certificate as well as those who sign as witnesses?

I am delighted to see the Solicitor-General. He was good enough to be present last Friday. I believe that he is anxious to answer one or two points, and I hope that he will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

I cannot understand why my hon. and learned Friend has seen fit to state in line 3 of the new Clause Provided that no particular form of words shall be required for such agreement"— "such agreement" being a declaration of marriage permanency. Marriage certificates, birth certificates and certainly death certificates, which are all fairly important documents in our lives, are spelled out in a standard manner. They are printed and completed in a standard way.

There is a lot to be said for having a similar type of standard document readily available for what many married couples will consider to be a vital declaration of permanency. I take it that my hon. and learned Friend, with his legal expertise—I know that he will have given the matter some thought—envisages that a declaration of permanency will be completed on the lines of, perhaps, a will, which is drawn up by a person during his lifetime, which leaves great latitude of scope for variation in its compilation.

With those few words about the Clause, I confirm emphatically that I respect, admire and support the spirit behind it. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on his initiative in introducing it to the House. If only he can make it watertight—I believe that it has one or two holes—it will have my unqualified support.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I wish to make only a short speech because, as a sponsor of the Bill, I naturally would not wish to delay it. I am sorry that I could not be here last Friday. It is difficult for some of us sponsors to be present at the odd times when we have to be here. It would be tragic if owing to procedural difficulties the Bill never got on to the Statute Book.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) has produced an original new Clause. It was not discussed in Committee on either the present Bill or the previous one. Therefore, it is right that the House should give it careful attention. As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I have, naturally, given it a good deal of thought and I am convinced that it must be rejected.

I will give two reasons. First, I find the concept of a two-tier standard of marriage repulsive. It is impossible to have an élite class of marriage and another class less good. I should like to remind the House of what my hon. and learned Friend said a week ago: We shall have a sort of élite class of married people, the sort of married people who have not only gone through a marriage ceremony but who have also entered into this little agreement so that they can tell their friends, 'We belong to this rather better class of married people, the sort of married people who regard marriage as a serious lifelong business, not a temporary partnership that one can enter into every few years.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May. 1969; Vol. 782, c. 1833.] Those were my hon. and learned Friend's words. That is an intolerable statement.

In my view, all couples who get married, whatever their age, genuinely believe that their marriage is to be a lifelong partnership. They do not want a temporary partnership. They want and expect a lifelong union. But people are human. People and circumstances change. Until we get a Utopia, marriages will break down. The Bill accepts that fact of life. The new Clause does not. For that main reason, I reject it.

Secondly, however, I am sure that the Clause would cause terrible injustice. Let us imagine a case where the partners to a marriage draw up the sort of agreement that my hon. and learned Friend has in mind. They sign a piece of paper. I am a lawyer; I do not know whether it would be done in a lawyer's office. Let us assume that the husband turns out to be wholly unsatisfactory—he treats his wife with cruelty, he is mean and unfaithful, he neglects her and is selfish—and the marriage breaks down. Under Clause 2(1,b) of the Bill, the wife can go to court and say that since the celebration of the marriage the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot be expected to live with him. She has her rights.

In that imaginary case, what would the husband do? He would wave in her face a piece of paper, which might have been signed many years before, and say, "Do you remember signing this? No relief for you." Therefore, the wife, who might be totally innocent, would be deprived of her rights.

Has my hon. and learned Friend thought this through? His new Clause would produce intolerable injustice. The sponsors of the Bill are trying to make the divorce law more just. I am certain that a Clause of this kind would do exactly the reverse.

3.15 p.m

Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) has attacked the new Clause for two main reasons neither of which seems to me to be conclusive in reaching a decision on the new Clause. In the first place, he says that it is quite intolerable, in his opinion, that there should be what might be described as two degrees of marriage. May I say to him on that point that this concept is, of course, enshrined in the laws and has been the practice for many years in a number of other countries of the world, so that it is not really perhaps quite such an extraordinary proposition as he would have the House believe.

Secondly, he talked about grave injustices which might arise as a result of the adoption of this new Clause, and he gave an illustration of the kind of injustice which he had in mind, but injustices can, of course, arise in all kinds of circumstances, and in the imperfect world in which we live on this side of eternity it is very unlikely that this House, or, indeed, any other legislative body, will ever be able to introduce a system of law and an organisation of society which in any and every circumstance is free from injustice. The most that anyone can do in this imperfect world is to consider all the factors involved in a case and come to the conclusion as to which course is likely to produce less injustice than any other course.

If I may give my hon. Friend an illustration on the other side, let us take the case of a man who contracts a marriage—and the intention, of course, at the time is, that he is gaining an affectionate and a loving wife with whom he is entering into a contract which is to last till death them do part—and who makes over a very large amount of his fortune in the form of a marriage settlement for the benefit of his wife to be, and she, to borrow the illustration used by my hon. Friend, turns out to be the very opposite kind of person to the kind of person that he thought he was marrying. Well, in a marriage settlement, how great is the injustice. Not only has he lost a wife but he has also lost at the same time a large amount of his fortune. While contracts of all kinds can work out differently from the expectation of the people who are responsible for them, nobody, surely, would be prepared to enter into wholesale condemnation of the whole system of marriage settlements because of the kind of circumstance which I have described. A marriage settlement might, in the light of subsequent circumstances, turn out to be a very grave injustice upon the man who has irrevocably and for all time parted with a large part of his fortune.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must link his general observations with the new Clause we are discussing.

Sir C. Black

I will endeavour to do that. I regret that I was getting a little wide of the new Clause. I have concluded, in any case, that part of my speech, and I do not think that the rest of what I have to say can be regarded as wide of the mark.

Mr. Awdry

Can the hon. Member explain how this new Clause helps that particular husband?

Sir C. Black

This new Clause does not help that particular husband. I was merely taking an analogy to show how the risk of injustice is involved in most of the arrangements into which people enter in life. It is not necessarily right to say contracts are bad and should not be entered into because, sometimes, one works out in a way which involves an injustice. That is the point I was endeavouring to make.

To come to what I had wanted to say in reference to this new Clause, I should like to say at once that, in common with a good many other speakers, I do not particularly like parts of this new Clause. I find the idea which is embodied in the new Clause to be very far from ideal, and I think, in common with other hon. Members—both those who support the new Clause and those who oppose it—that it involves very considerable difficulties.

My difficulty is that I dislike that part of the Bill which the Clause seeks to amend and improve. At the end of the day, having considered the matter with all the disadvantages that I can see in the Clause, I come to the conclusion that if the Bill is to pass into law at all I would regard it as a less damaging and a better Bill with the Clause included in it than it will be if the Clause is rejected. Therefore, somewhat halfheartedly, and certainly without any very great enthusiasm, if the Clause is put to a vote I shall be on the side of those who give support to it.

I agree with those who have spoken about what they regard as the inadequacies of drafting in the Clause. This is always the difficulty of ordinary Members when they seek to draft Amendments and Clauses. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell), who drafted the Clause, has the advantage of great experience, training and knoweldge in the law. I think that some of my hon. Friends are right in believing that notwithstanding that improvements could be imported into the Clause.

What we therefore want to do—this is what we often have to do in these cases—is to debate the broad principle with which the Clause deals, because if the House decides, as I hope that it will, that the principle of the Clause is right, inadequacies and difficulties of drafting are susceptible of correction in another place. From what my hon. and learned Friend has said I think that he is by no means unwilling to consider any drafting improvements that can be suggested.

In deciding whether the Clause should be incorporated in the Bill, the Clause must be viewed within the context of the Bill itself. No one will dispute—I am sure that the sponsors of the Bill will not dispute—that the Bill makes most drastic changes in the laws of marriage and in the relations of husbands and wives. It is a fact—I think that some of the sponsors of the Bill agree with this—that at present the great majority of people at any rate—I would not go so far as to say "everybody"—embark upon marriage in the belief that they intend to make it a lifelong arrangement. When they make their declaration— for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health … till death us do part"— they honestly and sincerely believe that that is how their marriage relationship will work out.

People today look upon marriage and the obligations of marriage in the context of what has been the law of Britain over many years, as embodied in the marriage service. If the Bill becomes an Act and in 25 years' time a new generation has become acclimatised to the lighter view of marriage vows which the Bill embodies, people will not take this solemn and serious view of marriage obligations.

The whole point of the Clause is that if there continue to be people with deep religious convictions whose belief is—and they hold this with a burning sincerity—that marriage is and always ought to be a lifelong bond between a man and a woman that only death can end, what right has the House to say to such people, "You can no longer enter into this kind of lifelong arrangement under the law because we are not prepared to uphold your right to enter into a lifelong contract of that kind"?

It is to deal with that section of the public, not the whole public, that takes this stronger view of marriage that the new Clause is designed. A person entering into matrimony does so more or less certain under the present law of one fact—that if he does not commit a matrimonial offence he cannot be involved in a divorce which is one in which he is unwilling to participate and to which he is unwilling to agree. A person married under present law has security in that, if he properly fulfils the obligations into which he has entered he cannot find himself an unwilling and reluctant participant in divorce proceedings, with all that divorce proceedings involve.

But that position would immediately go by the board under the Bill. Nobody any longer would have that kind of security. A man or woman entering marriage would have no certainty that if his conduct was entirely blameless and gave no cause for offence he would not in five years' time find himself in the divorce court with the other party—the guilty party—as the plaintiff, as it were, and a divorce in certain circumstances imposed upon him not only against his will but against his deeply cherished religious beliefs.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I gather that the hon. Gentleman does not like the Bill, but he will make that point on Third Reading. He must now come to new Clause 9.

Sir C. Black

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if I am wandering somewhat wide of the mark, but I want to emphasise the great change in the law that the Bill would bring about and why it is necessary to have new Clause 9 in order to ensure some protection for those who still want to enter into marriage on a lifetime basis. I see no reason why the parties to a marriage, with their eyes open and with the knowledge of what is involved, should not have the right to say under the protection of the law, "We prefer to marry under the old rules and not under the new rules. We happen to believe with conviction in the binding character of our marriage vows." Why should the State refuse to uphold such a marriage contract freely entered into between two willing and consenting partners?

I want to put this next part of my speech in a way which I hope will not cause offence to anyone. It is a fact that by no means all but many of the sponsors and supporters of the Bill, who desire to affect so drastically the marriage laws, hold humanist opinions rather than Christian convictions. It is no part of my wish to criticise their views.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

I hope the hon. Gentleman will take my assurance that I hold very strong Christian beliefs. As the principal sponsor of the Bill, I want to make that clear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question of Christian or humanist views has nothing to do with new Clause 9. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) is an old Parliamentarian. He must now speak to new Clause 9.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier in the speech of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) you intervened to say that that part of it was more relevant to Third Reading. In your provisional selection of Amendments, you have included Amendment No. 10, upon which it would appear to me that we would be able to make speeches of the kind the hon. Member is making.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have enough to do at the moment to confine the debate to that with which we are now dealing. When we come to Amendment No. 10 I will rule on that.

Sir C. Black

I can sum up by saying that people who wish to enter into marriage as a lifelong bond should not be denied that right under the Bill. If the new Clause were accepted, two people contemplating marriage could of their own free will enter into a contract which would not be imposed upon those who did not wish to enter into it, but would be available under the protection of the law to those who did.

I hope that, with such difficulties and imperfections as there may be in the Amendment, nevertheless we shall decide on balance that it is wise and worth while to incorporate it in the Bill.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

I intervene briefly to appeal to the sponsors of the Bill to show a reasonable attitude towards those who oppose it.

The Amendment deals with a matter which is, I think, accepted by the majority of people. No one contemplating marriage would consider it in any other way than that proposed in the Amendment. What young woman would go to the altar rail or to the registry office to be married if she was not certain at the time that it was to be a lifelong union? We all remember when we were young and the vows that we took. Most of us took them after very serious consideration, even though we may have been head over heels in love, as most of us were. Had we not given grave consideration to marriage, it would have been quite out of character. We are a nation of people who have been brought up to think in that way. Christian attitudes have taught us responsibility in all matters.

As children, no doubt we did many wrong things. That is very natural. As we grow older, we ask our consciences if we are doing right, and when we go into marriage we know precisely what we are doing.

The overwhelming majority of people would find the Clause eminently reasonable. I think that most people would say on their wedding days, "This is for life". We are individuals. Some of us believe that not only is marriage a sacrament but that we are made in God's image and likeness. If we are not, in whose likeness are we made? Some of us feel that that gives us a personal dignity and, from it, an attitude of responsibility to do the right thing. Of course, occasionally we fall by the wayside, and some of us believe in original sin. Those who do not believe had better try to understand that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are getting into deep theological waters at the moment.

Mr. Mahon

I agree. That is what happens when one follows these lines of argument through.

I should like to follow a more practical line to which I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will not take offence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Utopian attitude of the people who were creating the new élite. No hon. Member has more respect for Mr. Speaker than I have, but one of his predecessors was the emblem of happy married family life and he wrote "Utopia". Yet all his life he was the epitome of what we are asking for in the Clause—that marriage should be dissoluble only by death.

I take exception to creating an élite in marriage if the Clause goes through. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Awdry

The expression "élite" was put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) in moving the Amendment. He described it in those terms, not me.

Mr. Mahon

The hon. Gentleman used the word "élite", and I am following his argument. I suggest this is not the élite at all. If we refuse to listen to the reasonable argument of the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) and the Bill is passed without the new Clause being inserted, it will be creating the new élite. We have already agreed that people can tell lies. The people who can tell lies are the new élite—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That debate is over.

Mr. Mahon

We have dealt with that aspect of it. But when people use these words so loosely and say that such a reasonable argument as is displayed here would create a new élite, I submit that this is not an élite; this is the whole basis of our nation. The family life of our nation is here displayed in this reasonable new Clause for which we are asking. Whether people are rich or poor they can follow it. One of the nice things about marriage is that, whether people are rich or poor, in sickness or in health, they can take these vows and they have a common denominator with Her Majesty the Queen and with the richest person in this country. The fact that they take these vows maintains the personal dignity of every boy and girl who gets married. It gives us a great family feeling.

If the promoters of the Bill will not be reasonable about it, I suggest that the Government should make up their mind to give it no more time.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) will be the first to admit that the new Clause is merely an attempt to make the best of a very bad job. My hon. and learned Friend's immense knowledge and understanding of divorce problems infinitely surpasses that of most hon. Members in this House, because of the nature of his profession and the years that he has spent following it. His vast experience merits our closest attention to the advice that he gives to all in this House on these matters.

If I knew nothing about the new Clause, the simple fact that my hon. and learned Friend proposes it and is joined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) would bring me into the Lobby in support of it. But I know something about the new Clause. I have endeavoured to inform myself most fully. I have read the debate on the new Clause that took place last week. If the new Clause stood in isolation and as a new principle to be applied when people got married, I could not possibly support it.

I should not be in favour of an elite marriage, or a two-tier marriage as it was referred to last week if things were not as they are. If the Government, who have brought in so much permissive legislation during this Parliament, give their blessing to the Bill it will get through the House, and this Clause will be necessary to provide some people with relief from the grave injustice of paragraph (e) of Clause 2.

I read the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West last week, and several of the points that he made in support of the Clause impressed me very much. When he said: The purpose of the Clause is to enable people, if they wish, to enter into a marriage which shall last for their joint lives and shall be indissoluble by the courts", I immediately felt my ears prick up, and when he said: People in this country think seriously about marriage. There are still many people who think of marriage as a holy institution, and take seriously the vows they make when they enter into that institution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1969; Vol. 792, c. 1829.] he had me with him anyway. The Bill as a whole has no truck with the view. Marriage is no longer to be a serious or a responsible matter, or at any rate its seriousness and its responsibility are to be drastically reduced if the Measure gets through. Why, then, should even the sponsors of the Bill object to some people being allowed to consider marriage as a life-long contract? I see nothing in the Clause which would force people to sign a declaration when they were married. It would be entirely voluntary. It would be up to them to decide whether they wished to do so. No one would force them to do so.

For some people, it may be a matter of ridicule that there still exist in Britain today persons who believe in the importance to society of marriage remaining a stable institution, but there are such people. Why should they not be able to opt out from the paper bag marriage? This is imposing the views of the sponsors of the Bill on everyone who gets married. The new Clause recognises that that is unfair, that some people who wish to do so should be allowed to contract out of the notion that marriage is an easily dissoluble institution.

Mr. Farr

Did my hon. Friend refer to a paper back marriage?

Mrs. Knight

I referred to a paper bag marriage.

Mr. Farr

I am still no wiser. Can my hon. Friend describe that?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not in order to intervene to examine the metaphors which other hon. Members use.

Mrs. Knight

I am sorry to have mystified my hon. Friend. I merely mean the kind of marriage which it is easy to get out of.

It is true that people change their minds. When people start out on a life together they may have every intention of making it a permanent marriage, but they then find that they cannot after all, for one reason, or for many. They may have signed this declaration at the outset with every intention of keeping to it, but if they find that they cannot, they will not, as I understand it, have to adhere to the agreement. Is it not to be a binding agreement after all? "Yes", so long as both partners want it to be, "No", when both partners want it not to be. I think that that sums up the intention behind the Clause.

The Clause is a rather ingenious way of alleviating the frightful injustice to a totally innocent person being divorced against his or her will. There should be a way of alleviating such a monstrous thing. The Clause is not perfect, but it is the best way to keep a portion of the stable door secure.

In his speech last week the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones)—and I extend my sympathy to him if he found himself in trouble with the Postmaster-General for the rude remarks that he made about the two-tier system—the hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the point behind the Clause. He said that no married people who want to keep their marriage "until death us do part" need ever have recourse to the divorce court. The Bill does not force people to get divorced, any more than the Clause would force them to stay married when they have no wish to remain married. The situation is quite clear; if Parliament forces the Bill upon the people and denigrates the status of marriage some protection must be given to people who regard it as a deplorable state of affairs.

3.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) said that the sponsors of the Bill were trying to make the situation more just. I cannot see that it would be anything less just than to force a totally innocent partner to be divorced against his or her will. That is why I feel so strongly that if the Bill goes through the Clause should be accepted.

If the Clause were accepted the same sort of situation would be created as that which has arisen in Iraq, when the Shah attempted to end the law that allowed a man to have four wives. The religion of the country held that this was quite reasonable and the Shah, being a wise man, did not attempt to suggest that that was wrong. All he did was to say, "By all means have four wives, so long as before your second, third and fourth wives actually become married to you a signed declaration is forthcoming from the first wife that she has no objection to the arrangement". I understand that that has almost stopped the practice of Persian men having four wives. This Clause may well narrow the effect of the Bill. That would not be a bad thing, and I see no reason why I should withhold my support for the Clause.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

No thinking person can be happy about the state of marriage as it exists in England today—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am reminded that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) spoke in this debate last week. Much as I respect him, I must point out that it is not in order for an hon. Member to address the House twice on Report, no matter how keenly he may feel about the subject under discussion.

Mr. Mahon

I accept your ruling, graciously, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

I regret that we cannot hear again from the hon. Member. We always listen to him with the greatest delight. I shall not speak for more than a few minutes because the points have been well brought out in the speeches delivered both today and on an earlier occasion.

The Clause as it stands is not satisfactory, but it is a device; it is an attempt to deal with a clear injustice under the Bill. All fair-minded hon. Members—and I believe that we are all fair-minded—will recognise that this is an injustice, whatever may be their view of marriage. We have often been told that it is not for Christians or people of a certain religious denomination, or with a certain view of marriage, to attempt to impose their opinions upon their fellow-subjects who do not share their convictions, by legislation or by withholding their assent to legislation. I see the force of that argument.

On the other hand, it is scarcely for the Legislature, in what is constitutionally still a Christian country, to impose a secularist view of marriage on those who hold to the doctrine of matrimony prevalent in Western Christendom.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a criticism, the hon. Member's opinion of the Bill itself. We are discussing the new Clause.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting me right. I was trying to say that we have understood the argument that we should not try to impose our views on those who do not share them, but Clause 2(1)(e) will impose a secularist view of marriage on those who hold—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not questioning the hon. Gentleman's right to an opinion on the Bill, but he should express his opinion at an appropriate stage—on Second Reading or Third Reading. We cannot, on each Amendment, traverse the whole case against the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will see that the new Clause introduces a new feature and it is that new feature which he must defend or attack.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Yes, Sir, and the purpose of this new feature is to put right this injustice. Under the Bill as it stands, a spouse for whom marriage is not merely a contract—contracts should be observed—but a sacramental engagement, can be forced into a breach of that sacaramental obligation. It is to right that injustice that my hon. and learned Friend has put down the new Clause and I warmly support his effort, although I recognise that it is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the problem.

The hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) said earlier that he too held Christian views, and we respect them, so he would be the first to understand our problem. I hope that he will tell us something which will help to remove this fear. Perhaps he can take advice from the Solicitor-General. I hope that something will be done to meet this genuine anxiety that there will be a gross injustice in the Bill—although there might be better ways of removing it.

3.53 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I thought at first that some peculiar situations might develop as a result of the new Clause, so I listened with great attention to the debate before making up my mind whether to support it. I have concluded that it is very wise, particularly because its use will be entirely voluntary. I cannot see why the House should object to including in a difficult and controversial Bill a Clause providing for an aspect of marriage which has been part of our law for many centuries. I cannot see why the sponsors should object.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) is very dogmatic, but why should the House accept dogmatic views from the sponsors of the Bill and refuse to accept strongly held views to the contrary put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell)? How long it will last it is difficult to say, but at present we have a free House of Commons.

If the Clause were embodied in the Bill, those entering into marriage would survey the whole field of marriage, having regard to the basic new proposal in the Bill, and would conclude that it might be wise to have the protection which is implicit in the Clause and which would enable them as individuals to protect their interests having regard to the wider implications which I should be out of order in discussing now.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked how the Clause would be dealt with from a legal point of view, the Solicitor-General should have jumped to his feet and evinced a great desire to guide the House. As the hon. and Learned Gentleman sits on the fence all the time, on this occasion he was not going to fall off to either one side or the other and commit himself. However, the Solicitor-General has a substantial job, which is to guide the House in law. A very distinguished and learned Gentleman has tabled a new Clause about whose legal effects my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked a question. But the Solicitor-General solemnly sits there and does not use this great opportunity; nor does he accept the responsibility of his job and advise the House.

Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough nor I is a lawyer. We are two babes in the wilderness wanting guidance from the Solicitor-General.

Mr. Farr

It is a privilege to be a babe in the wilderness with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This debate is becoming too intimate.

Dame Irene Ward

It is a fascinating subject. I am not discussing the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and myself, but what on earth was the good of the Solicitor-General, nice though he is, sitting there with all his legal knowledge and not giving people like my hon. Friend and myself the benefit of his advice?

I can see the practical difficulties of implementing the Clause. However, I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West for trying to improve the Bill. I do not want to have to make another speech on this subject next week, so I say in conclusion that on consideration I should support the new Clause.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I agree that the House should—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.