A noble talent for democratic debate

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The Independent Online
Yesterday the House of Lords debated the Lord Chancellor's proposals for reforming the divorce laws. This is what I thought I heard.


Baroness Whalebone: My lords, my noble friend's thinking, as outlined in his White Paper of the autumn, would - if enacted - have serious and grave consequences for the institution of marriage in this country. I fear the removal of the concept of fault will vastly increase the incidence of divorce. Many more couples will break up. Virtually everyone will be tempted by the ease with which separation will be expedited. I speak for many when I admit, candidly, that I would be so tempted. My husband - to whom I have been married for 50 years - he would be tempted. (Baron Whalebone: Hear, hear!)

Thank you, Jeffrey. The concept of fault is essential to maintain the marriage contract and to establish that some stigma (and I use the word without apology) should attach itself to acts of adultery or mental cruelty. (Baron Whalebone: Why are they all looking at me, Doris?)

Lord Lizzard of Mountpeverel: My lords, may I associate myself with the noble baroness's remarks? What we are seeing, in the shape of the Lord Chancellor, is but the latest manifestation of that wave of permissiveness that first washed over our nation in the Sixties. Doubtless, in the privacy of his chambers, he sheds his legal wig and gown, replacing them with flared trousers (Noble peers: Shame!), an Afro and wielding what I believe our Caribbean brethren call a "spliffer".

The Earl of Haight-Ashbury: I thank the noble lord for giving way. Is it not true that he has himself been married seven times? Is he not guilty of hypocrisy?

Lord Lizzard of Mountpeverel: It is a matter of profound sadness to me that so many of my marriages have failed. This may be due in part to my making the mistake of marrying only foreign actresses and exotic dancers, but I venture to argue that had the divorce laws of this nation not been so lax and so expedient, I might only have had time for, say, three spouses, thus avoiding a great deal of expense for me and emotional distress for my 17 children. (Lady Gabor of Elstree: You've got 18!) Take it to court, madam!

The Bishop of Barking: My noble lords. This is a difficult and troubling matter, touching as it does on morality, ethics, conscience and community. Should we condemn or should we comfort? I think I express the clear view of virtually the entire Synod of the Church of England when I convey to you our deep sense of what an awkward business this all is.

The Duchess of Dewkstrey: My noble lords. A lasting marriage is essential to the rearing of children. The duke and I have remained married through thick and thin, providing a stable base from which our children have set out to explore the world. It is unfortunate that our eldest son, Piers, should have had a problem with cocaine, that Arabella is in Holloway awaiting fraud charges and that Lucy is walking out with Prince Andrew. But they, at least, have had the advantage of a father and mother who - while not liking each other very much - have stayed together.

Lord Stigg of The Dump: (inaudible) ... ridiculous ... children giving evidence (unintelligible) ... unfit ... can't be expected ... teddy bears in the nursery ... farce.

The Earl of Haight-Ashbury: My noble lords. Get off your high horses! Come down to the Haight Park festival any July, shove a clematis in your tiara and join the beautiful people making out under the moon. Eat, drink, smoke, drop tabs and screw while you can. The Lord Chancellor will be there, you know.

Viscount Hussein of Tikrit: My noble lords. Death to Robin Cook! Death to Sir Richard Scott! Long life to William Waldegrave! (Noble peers: Wrong debate!) Oh, sorry.

Marquis of Auchnacleavage: My noble lords. We have heard a lot from the progressives about hypocrisy. What's wrong with a little hypocrisy? Would it not be better to go back to the days when a man returned at night to his wife, warm from the arms of a grateful floosie? These days, thanks to the feminists, you can't get a decent mistress for love nor money. (Baron Whalebone: Yes, you can!)

Lord Blue of Gevalt: Well, good morning my noble Jim and good morning my noble Sue and good morning my noble everybody. This tricky debate reminds me of the old story of the man who goes to his rabbi and ...

Debate suspended 6.30pm.

Miles Kington is on holiday