Hague: make divorce tougher

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE will attempt to put traditional "family values" back at the heart of Tory policy tonight with a call for divorce to be made more difficult.

In a move that will delight his party's right wing, the Conservative leader will claim that the Major government was wrong to change the law to allow more marriages to break up.

Mr Hague will state that there should be a longer "cooling off period" to force couples who want to split up to reconsider their decision.

His comments follow his speech to the Conservative Spring Forum this weekend in which he called for an "explicit and special" recognition of marriage within the tax system.

To mark the final day of consultation on the Government's "Supporting Families" Green Paper, the 37-year-old MP, who has been married to his wife Ffion for just over a year, will tell BBC Radio Five Live that divorce at present is "too easy".

"I was one of the cabinet ministers in the last government who actually voted against my own government's legislation because I thought that it was going to make divorce too easy," he says.

"I voted for a longer period that people would have to wait before they got divorced, so I'm on that side of the debate. I would rather see divorce difficult rather than easy. I've often thought that it is too easy to divorce."

Mr Hague will add that while he accepts that there are some marriages where breakdown is the best outcome, "I'm not wholly convinced we have got the balance right."

His tough new stance on divorce echoes his speech at the weekend, in which he deplored the fact that a "left-wing, liberal consensus" had emerged which said that marriage did not matter.

The Tory leader went on to attack the Government's decision to scrap Married Couples' Allowance from the tax system and hinted that he would reintroduce similar measures if elected.

Mr Hague's criticism of the Major and Thatcher administrations prompted anger among some backbenchers, including Mr Major himself.

In his spring conference speech, Mr Hague said he wanted to "break free" from the past and included a point-by-point rebuttal of Tory errors such as excessive centralism, disregard for the public sector and betrayal on tax.

However, Mr Major privately told former cabinet colleagues that he was furious with his successor for going too far in attacking his record in power.

Former Tory minister Alan Clark, MP for Kensington and Chelsea, warned Mr Hague against criticising previous Tory leaders.

"I don't at all feel comfortable with the way he's attacking his immediate predecessors," he told GMTV's Sunday Programme.

"He may disclaim this but in fact the criticisms are levelled at both Mrs Thatcher and John Major and I don't think, in party terms, that is conducive to unity and it's certainly not conducive to self-respect."

Michael Ancram, the Tory chairman, insisted that Mr Hague had "made it absolutely clear that he was not knocking past leaders". However, the Tories had to "face up to things" and admit there were "certain things in the past which we did get wrong".