Tory rebels fall out over divorce Bill

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Indy Politics
The barrage of Tory opposition to the Government's Family Law Bill was in disarray last night as key Conservative family campaigners pledged their support for its central plank of "no fault" divorce after a year.

The surprise declaration from Julian Brazier MP, president, and Hugh McKinney, chairman, of the Conservative Family Campaign provoked immediate condemnation from other sponsors of the organisation, but was gratefully seized upon by Jonathan Evans, the junior Lord Chancellor's Department minister in charge of the Bill.

The split among the campaign's sponsors came after Mr Brazier, MP for Canterbury, and Mr McKinney circulated a letter to all Conservative MPs saying: "There is no doubt that with further amendment, the present Bill will remove many of the iniquities of the present divorce system and create a much fairer system for children and the innocent party in divorce."

In direct contradiction of calls by Tory rebels to retain adultery and unreasonable behaviour as evidence of marital breakdown, the letter said that current law had become "totally discredited with courts granting divorces in a matter of weeks". Fault had been abused to the extent that a totally innocent party could be sued for unreasonable behaviour. "The fault system that we have at present is manifestly unfair".

In a move that took hard-line opponents by surprise, the letter urged all MPs to support the Bill on its Commons second reading on Monday, while pledging to fight for amendments on the splitting of property and pensions. But Lady Olga Maitland, MP for Sutton and Cheam and one of the Bill's most outspoken critics, said: "I wasn't consulted. They speak for themselves. My views haven't changed." Lady Olga, parliamentary private secretary to John Wheeler, the Northern Ireland minister, is one of a number of members of government who will use the free votes during the Bill's committee stage to attempt to retain fault and to extend the minimum 12-month period of reflection and consideration to 18 months or two years.

The Bill's opponents are incensed that the waiting period for a divorce would be be brought down from a maximum of five years in a handful of cases, and that divorce by consent - without giving a reason - will be allowed after a year instead of the current two.

Holding out another olive branch to the Government, the letter pledged support for the principle of pension splitting, but said the Lords' amendment to introduce it was "inadequately drafted". It boosts the prospects of the Government persuading a sufficient number of Tory rebels to vote against retaining the amendment- although that would be on condition that ministers gave a clear commitment to bring in their own legislation.