Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Christopher ChopeMain Page: Christopher Chope (Conservative - Christchurch)
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I do not think the Bill adds to that problem at all. If it exists, it can exist in any profession and can be dealt with by proper regulation. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, that the current situation makes that problem worse, because people have to go through what is rightly described by the research from the University of Exeter as a legal farce—a legal ritual of saying, “What is the minimum form of words that your client will accept that will meet the legal test to enable us to get divorced?” That is the sort of thing that can be taken advantage of and it is where the unscrupulous will come in. Removing fault removes the ability for the unscrupulous person to play upon fault, be they a purported adviser or a party to the divorce. Maintaining that approach and resisting these amendments, however well intended, is important and I urge the Government to do so.
It is important to look at the international comparisons. In England, a disproportionate amount of reliance is placed upon fault as the grounds for divorce. There are other grounds for divorce, but because it is complicated at the moment some 60% of divorces in England are based upon allegations of adultery. By that stage, people have split up and are often living apart. There is the business of having to point the finger about who did what. My old pupil master, whom I believe I mentioned on Second Reading, was around when we still had to go through the charade of getting an affidavit from a chambermaid or the receptionist in a hotel to prove divorce. It was a demeaning business and thank God we got rid of that. Maintaining a fault system, which, as I say, entrenches conflict, does us no credit as far as that is concerned.
It seems to me that that is precisely what the Bill is seeking to do. The problem is the requirement to prove the following facts to support that because, inevitably, that evidential requirement elides into the grounds, and the conflict created by the need to prove one or other of those facts is the difficulty. So I think that the Bill is moving in the direction that my hon. Friend, with his own experience in the law, will probably wish us to go.
I know the Minister will feel strongly that the Bill is about recognising sensitive family situations—not about locking doors but about treating people as grown-ups. We should treat people as grown-ups, but not at the expense of missing out on their children. I ask him, therefore, to look favourably—he did not talk about it when we raised it on Second Reading—on the point the amendment makes about the importance of gathering data on the impact and dealing with those human rights judgments, so that we do not have more children being punished for the decisions their parents make, however strongly people may feel. The hon. Member for Congleton seemed to believe that most of the ills of the world were coming from those of us who have chosen not to get married, but I would hope that she would not think that my daughter should be damaged as a result.
Further to the statistic that up to 50% of people said they regretted divorcing, the reasons they gave were things like they felt they still loved their partner and that they missed their partner, so for all the huge number of comments that it is all financial, it is very genuinely emotions.
The hon. Gentleman mentions my comments to the Secretary of State last week. I do feel that the opportunity for Relate and marriage guidance should be available, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, before the marriage starts but also as the process comes to its end. It should not just be available in the early stages—I understood from what the Secretary of State said that it would only be available early. Is it not important that at all stages the chance to reconcile and save a marriage should be paramount and should be tried in every case?
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that because we are in Committee I cannot impose a time limit, but I am sure that everyone can see from the call list that there are still nine speakers. The debate has to finish at 6 o’clock. I am sure that hon. Members will want the Minister to have a good chunk of time to address the points that have been raised and the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) to have some time to respond. If everyone continues to speak for 15 minutes, not everyone is going to get in. I am just pointing that out and will leave colleagues to adjust their speeches appropriately.