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Politics

'If you make something easier, it will happen more often', Christian MPs split on new divorce bill

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will seek to make separation "less traumatic".

Opening the second reading of the Bill, Mr Buckland told MPs: "Marriage will always be one of the most vital institutions in our society but we also have to face the sad reality that marriages do sometimes break down.

"No-one sets out thinking that their marriage is going to end, no-one wants their marriage to break down, none of us are therefore indifferent when a couple's lifelong commitment has sadly deteriorated.

"It is a very sad circumstance but the law, I believe, should reduce conflict when it arises.

"Where divorce is inevitable, this Bill seeks to make the legal process less painful, less traumatic."

Raising concerns about the Bill, the DUP's Jim Shannon (Strangford) said "more funding must be allocated to counselling services to provide trained help for those in marriage difficulties and to prioritise saving a marriage".

Mr Buckland replied that "it is, I think, the sad experience that by the time a decision to issue a divorce petition has been made then matters have sadly gone beyond that".

He added: "It is because I believe in the family that, I think, these measures are the right approach. Some people might think that that is contradictory. I do not believe so because I think it is our responsibility to, in the legal process, try and reduce conflict.

"Because conflict leads to emotional difficulty, it can lead to damage, it can lead to really serious consequences, not just for the adults in the relationship, but let's face it the children too. I think we owe it to them to, in our legal processes, minimise rather than maximise the damage that can be caused."

Mr Buckland said "the way in which this Bill is constructed actually makes a so-called quickie divorce a thing of the past".

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) said he is currently going through a divorce, explaining that he has had to put blame onto his partner.

He said: "As someone who is very tragically going through the divorce process, and as someone who has had to put blame on my partner when actually I would have preferred to have had a no-fault divorce, I would ask (Mr Buckland) to reaffirm that message that this is in no way a quick decision that's made.

"As someone who's going through this can tell you, it's a very painful process and not a decision that came too easily to it. But this type of legislation would allow the burden of guilt to not be applied to one person or the other."

Mr Buckland responded: "(Mr Gullis) has shared a difficult and sensitive experience with the House, for which we are grateful, and he puts it extremely powerfully.

"This is not about blame, it's not about guilt, it's about acknowledging the fact that the causes of divorce are very complex and will evolve often over a long period of time, and I'm grateful to him for his powerful contribution."

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said Labour welcomes the Bill, telling the Commons: "It offers a common sense approach that continues to respect the institution of marriage and civil partnerships but avoids unnecessary antagonism and cost for people dealing with an often incredibly difficult time in their lives."

Conservative Bob Neill, who chairs the Justice Select Committee, said: "I support it because I'm a practising Anglican and because I take marriage seriously.

"If I thought it undermined marriage I would not support it, but I genuinely do not believe that to be the case."

Mr Neill also recalled the break-up of his first marriage, noting divorce often comes at the end of a lengthy period of breakdown.

Conservative former minister Andrew Selous, who represents the Church of England in the House of Commons added: "This Bill is aimed at minimising conflict between separated couples to make divorce not easier, but kinder."

Christian Tory MPs have raised concerns with the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) said: "My problem with the Bill is with respect to the streamlining and the potential shortening of the process.

"The difficulty I have is this: by making divorce more straightforward and easier it becomes the first resort rather than the last resort. It becomes the easier way out, the quicker way out, vastly reducing the potential for counselling and for reconciliation.

"We should remember that divorce is the swiftest route to poverty. The easier we make divorce, the more we shall have of it."

Fellow Tory Fiona Bruce (Congleton) added: "I cannot support this Bill. Legislation sends out a message and the message that this Bill sends out is that divorce will be quicker and easier whatever the minister has said. This Bill will undermine an important understanding of the assumed permanence of marriage."

Fellow Conservative Danny Kruger (Devizes) also expressed concerns, despite acknowledging that he accepts the Bill will pass.

Mr Kruger said: "Now I can appreciate that two years does feel like an eternity if you want to move on with your life, but I'd suggest the damage done to society and to future generations by this Bill is far greater than the distress of some people waiting 18 months longer than currently.

"Because what is really proposed here isn't just the speeding up of no fault divorce but the effective abolition of the marriage vow."

He added: "And I think that in this place we need to lead the culture, not to follow it and I hope that ministers will reflect on the cultural effect of this Bill and think again."

Fellow Tory Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) said the Government is "rushing this through".

Sir Edward said: "Why do we have to think that we have always to adopt an extreme liberal agenda?"

Suggesting that the Bill makes quickie divorces easier, he added: "I'm not sure that is the right message we should be sending out, particularly at this time of family stress during lockdown."

Sir Edward said: "If you make something easier, it will happen more often and I assure you this is a lesson of history, that if you bring in compulsory no fault divorce in a six-month time frame at the present time the result will be more divorces."

He added: "I assure you that the result of this Bill will be more pain, more suffering, children seeing less usually of their fathers, more women propelled into poverty. Is this really what we want to achieve?"

Sir Edward said: "The Secretary of State is ploughing ahead with the most extreme, the most radical measures he could dream of. One of the most radical, one of the most extreme divorce laws in the whole of the European continent."

Twelve Conservative MPs rebelled to vote against the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at second reading.

Their rebellion failed to stop the Bill progressing as it was approved at second reading by 231 votes to 16, majority 215.

The Conservative MPs who voted against the Bill were: Sir David Amess (Southend West); Fiona Bruce (Congleton); Philip Davies (Shipley); Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye); Sir John Hayes (Stamford and the Deepings); Danny Kruger (Devizes); Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough); Karl McCartney (Lincoln); Robin Millar (Aberconwy); Andrew Rosindell (Romford); Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West); and Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes).

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