Senior Tory says Britons should be more 'judgemental' of divorce


A senior Tory MP has called for British society to be more critical and "judgemental" towards couples who get divorced.

Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot and former defence minister, said that family breakdown was a drain on government finances and that people should be less afraid of condemning couples who separate.

He specifically highlighted the case of one Raymond Hull, a drug dealer and father of 22 children by 11 different women who was spared jail this week. He suggested that similar cases could be found across the UK.

"The men who father these children seem to have absolutely no interest in bringing them up, let alone paying for them," said Mr Howard during a Parliamentary debate on supporting married couples.

"We cannot afford to continue subsidising people who live these kind of dysfunctional lifestyles."

Mr Howarth criticised the religious establishment, saying bishops should spend less time attacking Government welfare reforms and be "more vocal of their condemnation" of marital breakdown. Several bishops were contacted but none were available for comment at the time of going to press.

"Am I being judgemental in an age when such approach is deemed inappropriate? Of course I'm being judgemental," Mr Howarth continued.

"For the sake of the country, we need to be judgemental. Besides, there are plenty of people who never cease to be judgemental about Members of Parliament."

The view of Telegraph readers appears to conform with Mr Howarth's predictions. Approximately 59% of those voting on an online poll said that they thought his opinions were "simplistic and judgemental". Only 39% agreed with Mr Howarth, supporting the statement that "we cannot afford to continue subsidising those who lead dysfunctional lifestyles".

Mr Howarth pointed to research suggesting that children with separated parents are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to suffer from behavioural disorders, and are more likely to commit crime or abuse drugs. Collectively, this results in an expense to the state of £40bn a year.

"Some will say that in a free society people should be entitled to live any lifestyle they want. However, overwhelmingly it is the taxpayer who is picking up the tab, so the state cannot be an idle bystander," Mr Howarth said.

The number of marriages fell since the Second World War to a 150-year low in 2009, but has picked up slightly in recent years.

In 2012, a record 47.5 per cent of children were born outside of marriage, up from 25 per cent in 1988 and 11 per cent in 1979. Based on current trends, over half of babies will be born to unmarried parents by 2016.

The proportion of marriages that end in divorce has fallen since 2000, with more than a third breaking up before their 20th wedding anniversary. According to The Telegraph, the decline is down to more people cohabiting before they marry, filtering out weak relationships.

MP for Gainsborough Sir Edward Leigh said family breakdown had become a "modern plague" and described a "conspiracy of silence" perpetrated by the Church, the BBC, Parliament and the press, that discouraged a more vocal defence of marriage, resulting in hundreds of thousands of children living what he called a "tragic life".

"In our permissive society a view has grown up that people are happiest if they are totally liberated. It is about 'me'," he said. "We are told Britain has changed and we have to accept it but don't we have a responsibility to speak out for what's right?"

Andrew Selous, MP for South West Bedforshire, said divorce was bad for people's health.

Married people are two and a half times more likely to survive a coronary graft, and singletons are more likely to suffer from heart disease and obesity, he said.