Lords back `no fault' divorce

PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

and STEPHEN GOODWIN

"No fault" divorce came a step nearer last night after peers gave a substantially unchanged Family Law Bill its Lords' Third Reading after rejecting an eleventh-hour bid to make couples wait longer.

The House of Commons will now be the battlefield on which critics - including ministers - will press to retain adultery and unreasonable behaviour as grounds for divorce, and to lengthen the cooling-off period from the 12 months in the Bill to 18 months or two years.

Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, has provoked strong misgivings among some Government colleagues over his determination to enact the changes, and concerns within the Tory party that this could only be achieved with Labour support.

The plain fact, however, is that the Bill has emerged largely unscathed from its Lords' stages despite an onslaught of criticism by an alliance of religious and anti-divorce peers led by Lady Young, a leading Anglican and former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. Her amendment to extend the period of "reflection and consideration" was yesterday rejected by 157 votes to 109. Last week's bid by Lady Young and her colleagues to retain fault in divorce failed by 118 votes to just 65.

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