A political struggle over the time couples should have to wait for a divorce was signalled last night as Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor, came under fire from both Tory moralists and Labour over his Family Law Reform Bill.
Former Conservative Cabinet minister Baroness Young said that by removing fault from divorce, the state was "actively discouraging any concept of lifelong commitment in marriage".
The sharp divisions emerged as the Bill began what is expected to be a stormy passage with its Second Reading in the Lords. The measure ends "quickie" divorces, substituting a 12-month pause for consideration, but it also ends the requirement to prove fault by one partner.
Lord Craigmyle, president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, warned that if Parliament strove to make divorce as simple, stigma-free and inexpensive as possible it would become a "normal, every-day affair". Britain already tops the European divorce league.
However, Lord Mackay was supported by the Duke of Norfolk, the senior Roman Catholic layman, with a strong proviso that more resources go into counselling and other help to save marriages.
Countering a call from the moralists for a two-year cooling off period, Lord Mackay said that while 12 months might not seem long to peers, it was a very long time indeed in the life of a young child living with uncertainty.
Presaging a key vote later in Bill's later stages, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the shadow Lord Chancellor, said Labour would put down amendments to try and remove the 12-month embargo on obtaining a divorce as it was too restrictive.
"If the parties are able to make sensible and firm arrangements to protect the interests of the children, we see no merit in holding them to a marriage which is dead and from which they wish to escape," Lord Irvine said.Reuse content