Men blamed over rise in divorce: Former Thatcher adviser wants divorce made tougher for couples with children

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The Independent Online
MALE attitudes have played a crucial role in major social changes such as the falling birth-rate, rocketing divorce and the rise in single parenthood, according to a leading right-wing Tory thinker.

David Willetts, MP for Havant and a former policy adviser to Baroness Thatcher, says in a paper today that divorce should be made harder for couples with children.

But in a somewhat different agenda from right-wing ministers who have spoken out against single mothers, he recognises that pressures on the family have been exacerbated by men's failure to change - a theme stressed in The Century Gap, a book by the Labour MP Harriet Harman.

Mr Willetts' remarks on divorce reflect some ministerial objections to the Law Commission's proposal to allow 'no- fault' divorce after a year and are at odds with Conservative 'family values'.

But he says women - and this is 'manifestly a good thing' - enjoy economic independence while men's economic capacities have declined.

'Whilst these economic changes have been going on, men have failed to adjust their behaviour and attitudes. It looks as if these developments help account for major social changes such as the fall in the birth-rate, the rise in divorce, and the rise in single parenthood. We have many 'new women' but they are suffering from a dearth of 'new men'.'

As for the much-criticised single mothers in inner cities, Mr Willetts appears to adopt the analysis of Professor William Julius Wilson, an American sociologist. 'Even if as a woman you want children, there is no one it is worth getting married to.'

Yet commitment to the idea of the family was as strong as ever, with most people aspiring to a stable married life as two natural parents bringing up their own children.

The British divorce rate is 'nothing short of a national tragedy', he says. 'Anything that can be done to reconcile couples, even after their first approach to lawyers, would yield enormous benefits.

'There is also a case for reviewing divorce law so as to make a clearer distinction between divorce early after marriage before any children are involved and divorce where children are involved.

'In the latter case the requirement could be more exacting, with longer delays before any divorce is possible.'

Paul Boateng, Labour's legal affairs spokesman, has tabled a series of parliamentary questions to Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, following his decision to redraft his divorce Green Paper after complaints from Cabinet colleagues.

The Family is available free from Contemporary Papers, W H Smith Group, Strand House, 7 Holbein Place, London SW1W 8NR.

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