No-fault divorces are “lacking in morality” and could destroy “the institution of marriage”, a senior Conservative politician has declared.
Archaic laws demand proof that a marriage has broken down due to a partner’s adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion – but Justice Secretary David Gauke has said this approach will be scrapped as soon as possible.
But speaking at an event at the annual Tory Party conference in Birmingham, the party’s former treasurer, Lord Farmer, condemned the move and said liberalising the law was immoral and causing the “breakdown of society”.
He also blamed tax credits for a rise in break-ups and said the key to ending domestic violence “cannot simply be more refuges for victims to flee to”.
Farmer, who converted to christianity age 35 and is on the right of the party, said one or both partners should take blame when they “fail to live up to the promises made” at their wedding.
He said: “It is simply another example of the hyper-liberalism that treats family breakdown as inevitable.
“Making marriage easier to exit and sanitising divorce may make it less painful to the adults involved, but it is far more likely to weaken the institution of marriage than strengthen it.
“It will render marriage more voluntaristic and like cohabitation with its assumption that a couple may only stay together whilst it works for both of them.
“Marriage on the other hand is a solemn vow, an explicit statement of commitment, ‘until death’. Saying it’s no-one’s fault when one or both parties fail to live up to the promises made empties those promises of all meaning.”
He added: “I would go further and say support for no-fault divorce is lacking in morality.”
At the event on “strengthening families”, which saw arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg introduce Farmer’s speech, said the decline of marriage began with socialism.
“In many respects, it goes back to Engels, it goes back to Marx, the destruction of the family and building up reliance of everyone on the state, not the family,” he said.
He added that policies of the 1997 Labour government had accelerated divorce rates among low-income families and said former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took an “unreservedly liberalising approach to family change” which judged that all families “were deemed to require and deserve state support”.
Farmer hit out at the Working Families Tax Credit, introduced by Brown, which increased the benefits available to single mothers who went out to work for 16 hours a week or more.
Marriage breakdown was also leading to poor health and high suicide rates among single men, and, Farmer claimed, encouraged children to join gangs.
He said: “Defenders of the defamilialising approach argue that it is potentially very harmful for women to be dependent on men who might be abusive if they are to make ends meet. Of course this is true.
“It is also very harmful for men, women and children and society if men become surplus to requirement in families.”
He went on: “Defamilialisation and tyrannous hyper-liberalism have not ushered in a better, freer world but have facilitated an individualisation in social life which has resulted in father absence on a massive scale”.
He added that most of the 50,000 young people caught up in county lines drug activity “come from a broken home”, adding: “Also a lack of a good male role model helps lure young men into substitute family of a gang.”
Farmer went on to say more charities should aim to mediate between couples trapped in domestic violence, adding: “The response to our completely unacceptable levels of domestic abuse cannot simply be more refuges for victims to flee to.”
Farmer also called for the Government to appoint a senior cabinet minister for families and said welfare overspending, rough sleeping and educational underachievement had their roots in family breakdown.
“The welfare system picks up the pieces when relationships crumble, because people who were previously dependent on each other become dependent on the state,” he said.
He even claimed the housing crisis was exacerbated by marriage breakdown as demand for properties went up because “couples with children split up and both want family-size homes”.
Rees-Mogg, who is father to six children, called the fringe meeting “one of the most important meetings of party conference” and said “the family is the building block of society”.