HC Deb 04 April 1967 vol 744 cc58-119

Order for Second Reading read.

4.25 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill transfers undefended divorce proceedings to the county courts. For the past 20 years or so county court judges having been trying the vast majority of undefended divorce cases. In 1966, of a total of 38,500 undefended cases, over 34,000 were heard by county court judges. When they do so, they sit as Special Commissioners and wear the robes of a High Court judge.

The Bill recognises the reality of that situation and gives county court judges in name the jurisdiction which they have in substance exercised since the war. It does so by providing a framework for the rules of court and detailed administrative arrangements required for the transfer of undefended cases to the county court. The Bill is the logical outcome of the fact that although divorce jurisdiction has always been vested in the superior courts there has been an increasing tendency in the past 50 years to decentralise and to entrust it to judges and court officials who are primarily of county court status.

In 1873, divorce cases were heard in London only. In 1912, the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes rejected the suggestion that divorce cases should be tried by county court judges, but recommended that nine or 10 county court judges should be appointed to sit as Commissioners of the High Court. Nothing was done about that proposal, and although provision was made in the 1920s for the Kings' Bench judges on circuit to hear certain undefended cases, it was not until the Second World War that there was any real change.

The enormous increase in the number of divorce cases which occurred towards the end of the war meant that the matter had to be looked at again if there was not to be a complete breakdown in the administration of the law. In 1946, a Committee over which the present Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, presided, found that there was an urgent need to introduce new arrangements for the disposal of cases, but it reaffirmed the view of the Gorrell Commission about the importance of keeping divorce in the High Court. It nevertheless recommended what some have regarded as a mere face-saving compromise. Instead of enabling county court judges as such to try divorce cases, it said that all county court judges were to be made Commissioners of the High Court for the purpose of trying divorce cases. They would be given power to try defended as well as undefended cases, although, in practice, they would concentrate on the undefended and in addition to those they would have time to try only the shorter defended cases.

Immediate effect was given to those recommendations, and so for the past two decades county court judges have exercised a jurisdiction which is technically vested in the High Court.

In London, they take it in turns to sit about once a fortnight in the Royal Courts of Justice. In the provinces, they sit at 49 so-called "divorce towns", which are towns at which matrimonial causes may be heard. The judge sits in the local assize court, if there is one available. Otherwise, he sits in his own county court. He also sits in chambers to deal with interlocutory matters, such as custody of or access to children, which would otherwise be dealt with by a divorce judge in London. When sitting at a divorce town, he is accompanied by the district registrar of the town or one of the registry officials.

So far as I am aware, no one has suggested that the county court judges do not try these cases as well as do high court judges, or that they do so with less dignity or expedition. Nor do I think it likely that there will be any adverse effect on the respect accorded to the marriage tie if a county court judge sits in a purple robe instead of a black gown and is addressed as "Your Honour" instead of "My Lord".

It is not intended that matrimonial causes shall be tried in every county court as part of ordinary business. Jurisdiction will only be given to the larger courts at places with proper accommodation—probably, at the outset, in the towns which are already divorce towns. Arrangements will be made for matrimonial causes to be heard on days when ordinary court business will not be taken, so that there is no fear that divorce cases will have to take their turn in the list with hire-purchase cases or a series of possession cases.

In one respect, the Bill does not give effect to the existing situation, and that is in regard to what are known as "short defended causes", which county court judges, sitting as Commissioners, now try. These cases are those estimated to take not more than three hours, but they often last much longer and the issues which arise in them are often as complex as in any other defended cases. It seems to us that, for jurisdiction purposes, the only logical distinction is between defended and undefended cases. Accordingly, county court judges are not given jurisdiction by the Bill to try defended cases.

As I have said, the Bill provides the statutory framework for the necessary changes in form. Clause 1 provides for all matrimonial causes to be started in divorce county courts designated by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and, if undefended, to be heard by such courts as are designated by him as courts of trial or, if defended, to be transferred to the high court. The Bill does this by conferring the necessary rule-making powers on the rule-making authority constituted by Clause 7.

The intention is to designate as divorce county courts only those courts which have proper facilities for the conduct of matrimonial proceedings. These are courts at which there is at present a district registry of the High Court with a divorce jurisdiction. There are 101 registries of this kind. At each of these, the county court registrar is also the district registrar of the High Court, so the registrars and staff of these courts already have the necessary expert knowledge of divorce procedure.

It is not intended to give this jurisdiction to county courts at the smaller places where the staff have no experience of this work at present and only little prospect of gaining any since, were their courts to be given jurisdiction in future, only a small number of cases would be likely to be dealt with by them. The only court which may become divorce county courts but where the registrar is not at present a district registrar with divorce experience are likely to be some half dozen courts on the periphery of Greater London. There is, of course, no district registry at these places because in Greater London all High Court cases start in the Strand.

Clause 2 gives the divorce county court the same powers as the High Court to make orders for maintenance and other forms of ancillary relief and orders with respect to children and the family. Once again, this is to be effected largely by rules.

Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain, under Clause 2, whether or not the position will be that, for ancillary relief, county courts will have jurisdiction only where the suit has been undefended while the High Court, apart from exceptional cases, will have jurisdiction when cases are defended? Will not this be the distinction?

The Attorney-General

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, I will deal with that. If what I have said does not satisfy him, perhaps we can return to the matter.

Clause 2(2) requires proceedings to be brought in such divorce county courts as the rules may prescribe. It is expected, as I have indicated, that the rules will provide for an application for ancillary relief normally to be made to the court in which the relevant matrimonial cause is pending. Thus, any application in an undefended case for ancillary relief or an order relating to the children will be dealt with by the county court even if the application is contested. On the other hand, an uncontested application in a defended divorce before the High Court will be dealt with by that court.

Rules are also required to provide for the transfer to the High Court of any proceedings pending in a county divorce court where such transfer appears to the court to be desirable.

Clause 3 provides for the county court to have power to sanction a potential collusive agreement before presentation of a petition. Such application can be made either before or after presentation of a petition for divorce. It is for the court, of course, to consider whether any agreement or proposed course is collusive and, if it is, whether it should be a bar to a divorce. As all proceeding will be commenced in the county court, it is necessary to give county court judges jurisdiction to consider these arrangements.

Clause 4 makes special provision for matrimonial causes begun in the Principal Probate Registry at Somerset House and enables them to be treated as though begun in a divorce county court. Last year, 13,315 petitions were filed in the Principal Registry and over 33,000 in district registries. The number of cases dealt with and the degree of specialisation in divorce have given registrars and officials of the Principal Registry great experience in handling these cases. Rule 71(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Rules requires the practice of the principal Registry, indeed, to be observed in the district registries, and directions are issued from the Principal Registry for this purpose.

We feel that it would be regrettable if that great fund of knowledge and experience were wasted by leaving the Principal Registry with only defended cases transferred to the High Court in London. All the rest of the work would have to be handled by county courts in the London area. Their registrars would have no experience of divorce and it would be difficult to provide them with sufficient trained staff.

Having regard to transport facilities in the London area, a litigant, unless living or working on the outskirts, might well find it more convenient to come to the Strand than to make a cross-county or even a cross-country journey to his local county court. It would also be most inconvenient for solicitors and counsel to attend a number of scattered county courts instead of one court in the centre of London. There would obviously be difficulty in arranging county court sittings so that they did not clash.

It is therefore proposed that in London and the Home Counties only six or seven courts on the periphery should be designated as divorce county courts while the remainder of the area should continue to be used by the Principal Registry, acting for this purpose as a divorce county court.

The designated peripheral courts might be at Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Uxbridge, Watford, Edmonton and Ilford. If a person residing or working in the area of one of these courts consulted a local solicitor about bringing divorce proceedings, the solicitor would probably find it convenient to file the petition in that court, where all the interlocutory proceedings and any application for maintenance or other ancillary relief could be dealt with.

However, the trial may be fixed to take place either at the local court, or at the place for the hearing of cases in the Principal Registry. This would probably continue to be in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand where, as the House will know, London county court judges already sit as Special Commissioners of the High Court. There is no need for the Bill to confer on the Principal Registry power to deal with undefended matrimonial causes, because, obviously, it has that jurisdiction as an office of the High Court. It is necessary only to ensure that its jurisdiction is not excluded by the provisions of the Bill, requiring every matrimonial cause or ancillary proceedings to be commenced in a divorce county court, and that while a case remains undefended, it is dealt with in the Principal Registry as if it had been commenced in a divorce county court.

Clause 5 provides for the jurisdiction conferred by the Bill on county court judges to be exercised by such county court judges as the Lord Chancellor may direct. Under the existing system, whereby matrimonial causes are tried by county court judges sitting as Special Commissioners of the High Court, nearly every judge outside London has at least one divorce town on his county court circuit. Those with little or no divorce work on their circuits in practice help at neighbouring divorce towns and the so-called floating judges, who have no circuits of their own, give assistance wherever needed.

The judges with circuits in and around London take it in turn to sit fortnightly at the Royal Courts of Justice to try undefended matrimonial causes. These arrangements, which are under the general supervision of the Lord Chancellor, have worked satisfactorily and it is intended to continue them, with minor adjustments, in the London area when the Bill comes into force.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

One of the difficulties is the right of solicitors to have audience in a county court. Is it intended by the Government that in the rules solicitors will have a right of audience in London cases tried at the Law Courts in the Strand?

The Attorney-General

Under the Bill they will be of the same status as any other courts and the answer to that question is, "Yes, in such cases as solicitors care to appear". It is expected that they will not do so in the vast majority of cases—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—for various reasons. Solicitors may prefer cases to be conducted for their clients by counsel, and, indeed, in courts where solicitors have jurisdiction already in a very large percentage of cases they elect, for reasons of pressure on their own time and perhaps the feeling that the work might be better conducted by counsel, to brief counsel.[An HON. MEMBER: "Cheaper."] As has been said by that disinterested voice on the other side of the House, it may well be cheaper to do so.

Although the effect of the Bill regrettably—and I say that it is regrettable as the titular head of the Bar—may result in a certain reduction in the volume of the work of the Bar, happily, there are no signs at this stage in the history of the Bar of unemployment in that great profession. I have been a little diverted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons), who shakes his head at me so sadly in view of what I have said.

Clause 1 gives the right of appeal on any question of fact arising in all matrimonial cases tried by county court judge, and it may here be appropriate for me to say something about the recording of proceedings in divorce county courts. Under Rule 72 of the Matrimonial Causes Rules, 1957, shorthand notes are taken of the proceedings of the trials of all matrimonial cases, including undefended cases, heard by county court judges as Special Commissioners. Although the notes are not often referred to in undefended cases, they are very useful on appeal to the Court of Appeal, or on application to the Divisional Court for a rehearing and, of course, to assist the Queen's Proctor in the exercise of his functions.

It is clear that if on the transfer of divorce jurisdiction to the county courts shorthand notes were dispensed with and in consequence county court judges felt obliged to take a longhand note of every case, the dispatch of business would be seriously retarded. The Lord Chancellor has accordingly decided that, while every effort will be made to introduce mechanical recording facilities as soon as possible—and that practice has already been introduced in certain courts—existing arrangements for the taking of shorthand notes in matrimonial cases will in the meantime be continued.

Clause 7 creates a new rule-making authority for matrimonial causes both in the High Court and county court. This authority will have power to make rules intended for the purposes of the Bill and also for the purposes of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1965, and it will, therefore, be possible to replace the existing Matrimonial Causes Rules by a single set of rules relating to matrimonial causes in both the county court and the High Court.

Clause 8 deals with fees and provides that the court's fees to be charged in matrimonial causes, whether the proceedings are in the High Court or in the county court, shall be prescribed by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury. At present, High Court fees are prescribed by the Lord Chancellor with the advice and consent of the Judges of the Supreme Court under the provisions of the Supreme Court of Juridicature Act, 1925, while county court fees are prescribed by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury under Section 177 of the County Court Act, 1959.

When divorce jurisdiction becomes exercisable by the county court as well as by the High Court, it will be convenient to have one authority with power to prescribe the fees to be charged in all matrimonial causes, and this will enable both the High Court and the county court fees to be set out in the same Statutory Instrument. As the vast majority of cases will go through the county court, it is thought that there is no need to require the advice and consent of the Judges of the Supreme Court in prescribing the fees. The Lord Chancellor will act with the concurrence of the Treasury.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

This seems to be the nub of the whole Bill. Can the Attorney-General say what those fees are likely to be and what saving is envisaged?

The Attorney-General

I can say what saving is estimated, but at the moment I am not in the position to give details of the proposed fees. These are matters which are still under discussion between the Lord Chancellor and both branches of the profession. I shall say a word in a moment about the saving which it is expected will be accomplished by the Bill.

Clause 9 enables the rules of court to provide that the costs allowed to solicitors and counsel acting for assisted persons in undefended cases are to be such fixed sums as may be specified in the rules, instead of being such costs as are allowed on taxation. A solicitor is still to have the right to ask for taxation if he wishes, but if he receives on taxation no more than he would have been allowed by way of fixed costs, he will have to pay the costs ordinarily allowed for drawing the bill and assessing the taxation.

Clause 10 is the interpretation Clause and Clause 11 provides for the Bill to come into force on such day as the Lord Chancellor may appoint, so as to give time for the necessary rules and administrative arrangements to be made.

As I have already indicated, one important effect of the Bill is expected to be a saving to the legal aid fund. The cost of providing legal aid in civil cases has increased five-fold in the last seven years. In the year 1965-66, no less than £3,320,113 of the total cost of legal aid of £5,575,000 was attributable to divorce proceedings, a remarkable figure.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that the £5 million for total legal aid costs is a net figure, whereas the £3¼ million attributable to divorce proceedings is a gross figure? If he took the net figure of divorce costs, which would be the true comparison, would it not be nearer to £2 million?

The Attorney-General

I will have that checked. I cannot give an answer at the moment. I thought that the two figures were comparable, but I will return to the point later.

It is not possible to forecast accurately the savings which will result from the transfer of jurisdiction to the county court in undefended cases, but, as I said in answer to a Question some time ago by the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), it is expected to be about £400,000. Although, like most hon. Members, I support with enthusiasm our legal aid scheme—I know of no country with anything as good—we have a duty to save the taxpayer what we can, and this Bill should make a sizeable contribution to that desirable end.

As I said, the Bill does no more than confer on the county courts a limited jurisdiction in matrimonial cases. It does not alter the grounds on which relief may be granted or lessen the court's duty to satisfy itself that the petitioner has made out his case and that proper arrangements have been made for the children. Subject to possible procedural simplifications, the jurisdiction will, of course, be exercised in the same manner as in the High Court. There is nothing in the Bill which could hinder any development in the substantive law of divorce which might prove to be desirable. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Grant

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, would he say whether the Legal Aid Advisory Committee under Lady Emmet has considered the saving to the Legal Aid Fund? If so, have the Government taken its advice?

The Attorney-General

I have made a note of that question and will answer it in due course.

4.52 p.m.

Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)

The modest result of this modest Bill will be a modest saving in cash. No one can forecast how great the saving will be, but there will be some, however problematical. We all ought to try to economise with public money, and, since the objections to the Bill, although valid to many, are not overriding, I would not advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose it.

We are grateful for the Attorney-General's careful exposition, in which he showed his usual care and clarity. I was going to say, in view of his recent activities, that he has "oiled" its way through the House, but perhaps I should say "eased".

The proposal to try divorce cases in the county court has serious implications. It is against the trend of the expert advice on the matter over the last 40 years on how divorce cases should be tried. The proposal to change the jurisdiction to the county court has met with the unanimous disapproval of the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes under Lord Correll in 1912, the Denning Committee in 1946 and the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, presided over by Lord Morton of Henryton in 1956. Therefore, we are flying in the face of the expert and considered advice of those authoritative bodies.

However, I concede that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government have a strong argument in pointing out that the substance of the matter has been that, for 20 years, county court judges have been the persons trying both undefended divorces and short defended causes. The House ought to consider carefully before taking a step of this nature whether it is likely to lead to any increase in the divorce rate. Everyone would regard it as a great public disadvantage if any step which we took led to an increase at the rate at which families break up. It is a false economy, as was said several times in the other place, to save a small sum on the Legal Aid Fund if the result is to create all the adverse social consequences of the break-up of more families.

I do not think, however, that this Measure is likely to have that effect. Certainly it ought not to lead to an increase in the rate of break-up of marriages, which is the important point. It may lead to additional divorces because they are easier or cheaper, but that is a different statistic from the vital factor of the break-up of homes and families.

I agree that the substantive law of divorce will have a vital impact when we deal with it. I am glad that the Attorney-General emphasised that this Measure will not affect what is becoming the most urgent problem of all, namely, the consideration of the substantive grounds of divorce and the law under which marriages may be dissolved. The court in which that law is applied is unlikely to have much effect on the conduct of spouses who are contemplating breaking up a marriage. Neither spouse is likely to be less adulterous or cruel or more or less responsible in sticking to a difficult marriage because the substantive grounds for divorce are to be applied in a higher or a lower court.

I therefore do not believe that the Bill will lead to any noticeable increase in the rate of break-up of families. Of course, I am reinforced in that view by the consideration that the vast majority of divorce cases are already, in substance, tried by county court judges, and also by the consideration that, in future, neither spouse who is about to break up a marriage will have any idea as to whether the proceedings will be in the High Court or the county court, unless it is collusive and he knows already that there will be no fight, in which case it will be the county court. In other cases it will be unknown until the pleadings are closed whether the case is to be defended or not.

I therefore consider that this Bill is not likely to have a great effect on the rate of break-up of marriages, and is likely to produce a useful saving to the Legal Aid Fund.

It is curious that the Government have produced what they admit to be only an estimate that the total saving will be £400,000, when they have not yet decided what the new level of fees will be. That is the figure upon which the saving will depend and no one can begin to estimate the figure until the new scales are known. It is reasonable to assume that, with the co-operation of both branches of the legal profession, there will be some agreed reduction in the level of fees and I am sure that both the Bar Council and the Law Society will do all they can to see that public funds are economised in this respect—

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

Perhaps the fees will be so arranged as to work out at £400,000.

Sir J. Hobson

That attributes a greater desire for consistency on the part of the present Government than I would consider either necessary or desirable.

The Attorney-General

That is a Scrooge-like attitude not characteristic of the present Government, I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Sir J. Hobson

I will refrain from commenting on such a claim by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and return to the Bill which, as I said, is designed to make a modest saving.

As I see it, of the £5,750,000 spent on legal aid, 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. is the amount of the costs of divorces. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) asked a valid question about whether the Government had not, throughout all these calculations, been comparing a net figure with a gross figure. It is plain that the £5,750,000 figure is a net one and that it is the net amount of the legal aid provision which falls on the Exchequer after all recoveries and contributions—successful recoveries of costs and damages and so on—have been brought into the fund. But taking it on the basis of comparability as being a 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. figure, that means that about £4 million is spent on divorces in a year. If the net figures are comparable, and if a saving of £400,000 is to be achieved, that represents a saving of about 10 per cent.

Taking that figure of 10 per cent., I believe that, in the end, the saving is likely to be less than that figure of £400,000. I have a strong suspicion that, in the long run, we will find that a good many cases will become defended which would otherwise have been undefended. It may be optimistic to assume that there will be anything like a saving of £400,000. However, it is plain that there should be some saving and, as I say, I do not feel that there are any substantial risks in the provisions of the Bill. I am willing to see an attempt make to provide some relief for the Exchequer from the total costs that fall on public funds in providing assistance in divorce cases.

The real problem which Parliament must tackle—the basic question which must receive our attention—is that of the grounds of divorce. This Measure does not in any way affect those or make any difference whatever to the bases on which two spouses will be able in future to break up their marriage. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen that basic question being solved first, and the procedural consequences of any decision then being considered. As it is, it seems to be putting the cart before the horse to first of all alter the procedure without knowing what the subsequent law will be and afterwards to alter the basic principles. The Government should give some explanation about why, since a Bill has been promised on the main issue in the next Session, it would not be more sensible not to tinker with the procedural provisions until we can see what will be the shape of the future problems with which the courts will have to deal.

I am also favourably disposed to the setting up of local family courts. From the point of view of having a complete reorganisation of the ways of dealing with the problems affecting the family, both locally and centrally, this Measure does not touch that problem at all. I presume that it does not prejudice it in any way and that we can continue with the investigation, discussion and consideration of proposals along those lines in future—that is, without any prejudice being brought on those investigations by the Bill. I hope that that will be made clear. As I pointed out, these are objections of convenience and timing. While the Bill might have been more conveniently introduced after the main decisions of principle had been taken, nevertheless, if the Government want the Measure now, it would, I think, be wrong of my hon. Friends to oppose it.

There are two points of detail which I might conveniently raise now. Although they are to some extent Committee points, they go to the main structure of the Bill. The real problem for lawyers and the courts on the break-up of a marriage is money and children—maintenance and custody. Anybody who has had anything to do with divorce proceedings knows that all the fights are really about money or children or both. The best that the courts can usually do is to try to make the best possible arrangements for the altered circumstances of the spouses and for the future of the children when a marriage has broken up and when the mess that remains must be cleared up as best as may be. I have always regarded this as the most useful function the courts can perform. Anybody who has had experience of these matters either professionally or from observing divorcing couples is aware of the difficulties faced by such couples when they are trying, in the bitterness of separation, to sort out these problems in the wreck of the marriage.

Clause 2 contains a curious provision which gives jurisdiction in these vital matters, which are ancillary to the main suit, to the county court or High Court according to whether the suit is defended or undefended. That seems to me to be wholly illogical. The question of whether a man has or has not a defence to a charge of adultery or cruelty has nothing to do with the case in this respect or with the nature of the problems of what, when adultery, cruelty or desertion has been proved, should be done about the financial adjustments which must be made between the parties or about the arrangements for the future of the children. There seems to be in this provision an odd division of the ancillary powers of the court, between the High Court and the Divorce Court upon the sole basis of whether the suit was defended or undefended. On interlocutory relief such as alimony pendente lite, it is probably at that stage desirable, if not essential, that the court that is to try the suit should be the court which has jurisdiction in these interlocutory matters. But once the decree nisi has been pronounced and the issues of fault on either side have been determined, these ancillary questions are completely different and I can see no reason why they should be divided on the basis of whether a suit has been defended or undefended.

That raises an even more difficult problem. It is the problem of how one should divide them. I have a suspicion that in some cases, where the parties would wish to avoid the county court as the court of jurisdiction in these matters, the parties will go through the motions of defending cases for a half or quarter day so as to give the High Court jurisdiction. This may increase the number of defended cases and, thereby, the cost to the legal aid fund. It is possible that people will in future say, "We will conduct a small fight on a small issue and thereby see that the High Court gets jurisdiction".

I would suggest, however, that since, by and large, the county courts will be dealing with the vast majority of cases, it is right to leave the general jurisdiction for all these ancillary matters with the county court. I should have thought, however, that in addition to the powers that already exist in Clause 2(2) for the county court to send proceedings to the High Court where it considers that to be desirable in particular circumstances, there should also be additional provisions covering transfer.

Since this is really a Measure which is intended to relieve the Legal Aid Fund, if neither of the parties are legally aided and both agree that they want the High Court to have jurisdiction, it should be possible—and should be provided by the Bill and by the Rules—that, on agreement between the parties where the Legal Aid Fund is not involved, then the parties should automatically have the right to take the proceedings to the High Court.

It also seems odd that there should be an unbounded jurisdiction in the county court, after an undefended suit, to make an order for maintenance of any sum of money without limit. After all, the usual basis of our division between the High Court and the county court is that the High Court should deal with larger sums while the county court is intended to deal with smaller sums. A maintenance order of only £20 a week would involve a sum of £10,000 over ten years, and one appears to be giving to county court judges power to make orders affecting the transfer from one citizen to another sums as large as that, and often even greater sums.

I think that the vast majority of cases should be dealt with by the county court, but that there should be a limit of, perhaps £600 a year on the county court jurisdiction. That is the basis upon which the High Court and the county court are divided in relation to other money orders. Such a provision would allow the county court to cover the vast majority of ordinary citizens, as not very many could expect a maintenance order of more than £600 a year. In my view, therefore, it is worth considering a limitation on the power of county court judges to exercise their ancillary jurisdiction to make an order beyond a certain amount, which I would be delighted to see quite high, but they ought not to be without any limit at all. As the Bill stands, if the divorce is undefended, the county court judge can make an order for maintenance for any sum he pleases. I do not consider that to be right, and I shall refer to it in Committee.

It is very odd to find that the principles of the Bill are not being applied to London generally. I quite appreciate the in-built inertia of the divorce registry and the undesirability—I take the Attorney-General's argument—of breaking it up. It has expertise and knowledge and power, and great experience. On the other hand, if we are to provide that London is to be dealt with differently from all the rest of the country—including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and all the great cities, where the whole of the undefended divorce will be dealt with in the county courts—it seems that there is no difficulty in breaking up that part of the divorce registry into sections such as are necessary to be distributed round the various parts of London.

We are now adopting the system previously employed for crime in London when we concentrated the trial of all criminal cases in two quarter sessions only in central London. That turned out in the long run to be unsatisfactory, and the arrangement of quarter sessions scattered all over London to take care of different parts of London has been a satisfactory decentralisation.

At first blush, I would favour the idea that the county courts within London should be dealt with by the Bill in the ordinary way. They should be grouped together, so that certain of them should take an area of London with, perhaps, one for central London, and all the county court judges within that area could take it in turn to sit in that court, and the registry should be attached to the court where it usually sits. Undefended cases in London would then be dealt with in exactly the same way as in the rest of the country.

There would be no great disadvantage and considerable advantage in this method, not least in releasing a great deal of accommodation in the already overcrowded Royal Courts of Justice. There is a difficult balance of convenience in doing the job in this way without making an exception of London as against breaking up and distributing a very concentrated body of expert people. However, the registry in the High Court, dealing with defended cases and particularly if it has an extended jurisdiction in ancillary matters, will still be very busy and will be able to provide all the centralised expertise.

This is only an idea that strikes me, and I think that it requires useful consideration and discussion. The exception of London is unusual, and I can see no real reason why, if the principle is valid for Birmingham, Liverpool and the rest of the country, it is also not valid for London. To conclude, as I have said, this is a modest Bill, providing a modest saving, and the House might very well accept it.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I suppose that as a practising barrister I should declare an interest, but it is very many years since I appeared in an undefended divorce case. Nevertheless, I can speak with some little experience. I confess to serious misgivings at the changes contemplated in the Bill. As I understand it, all divorce cases will first go to the county court, where the pleadings will show whether the cases are defended or undefended. They will be sorted out—the defended going to the High Court and the undefended remaining in the county court.

The Lord Chancellor in another place, moving the Third Reading, said that doubts were in substance dissipated, since it was realised that the Bill was creating a reality out of what is now a piece of hypocrisy. He spoke of the fact that today county court judges dressed as High Court judges and addressed as "My Lord" instead of "Your Honour" tried undefended cases. But is it really as simple as that?

The provisions of the Bill, as has been pointed out by the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) are entirely contrary to the views expressed by two Commissions and the decision of the committee presided over by Lord Denning just after the end of the war. The Gorrell Commission of 1912 has been referred to. It is important to remember that that Commission came to the conclusion after detailed examination of evidence, that the granting of divorce affects family life, the status of the parties, the interest of the children and the interest of the State in the moral and social well being of its citizens, and that these things make it desirable to provide that cases of even the poorest should be tried in the Supreme Court.

The Denning Committee at the end of the war recommended, because of the great increase in divorce cases, trial by Commissioners. It must be remembered that the Commissioners were not always county court judges. The Lord Chancellor has the power, often used by him because of the pressure of work, of appointing county court judges, official referees, or barristers of certain standing to act as Commissioners to try High Court cases.

Then we had the Morton Committee, which was not comprised of lawyers or clerics. I use those words because the Lord Chancellor in another place first referred to opposition to the Bill as coming from them. The Commission was on a broad basis. In 1956 it examined this matter in great detail. First, it thought that the exercise by Commissioners of High Court jurisdiction was unsatisfactory and hoped for a return to the situation when High Court judges heard all divorce cases. Again, like the Gorrell Commission, it expressed the view that it was a principle of the highest importance that the granting of divorce should be confined to the High Court.

I pose the question: is it right to reject those carefully considered views? Is it right—because it was thought expedient for a period of time, possibly, to deal with a great number of cases to permit county court judges to be commissioners—to dismiss the present system as being hypocrisy?

It is said that the new system will save about £400,000 a year. I listened with interest to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to say about that figure. It is true that solicitors can deal with cases in the county court, and that may save some expense, but I am not at all sure that anything like £400,000 a year will be saved. I believe that it will be very much less—and in certain circumstances we might not even save money. I gather that it is the present intention to designate, in addition to those courts already functioning, about half a dozen courts on the periphery of London. There may be more in time; the Bill does not limit the number. This is merely the intention which has been expressed.

Presumably it will mean district registrars with divorce experience in the additional courts, as well as shorthand writers. What about the increase of work in the county courts, which are already overloaded? They constantly are having further tasks put upon them. Recently we had the Leasehold Reform Bill. That will provide additional work for county courts. In the first instance they will have to deal with all divorce cases, all the pleadings, and then the transfer to the High Court of all defended cases and disputes which are too complicated for county court judges to deal with. I echo the criticism made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington about maintenance and custody of children. I do not know whether the county court is the right place to deal with matters of that kind. It is true that some of them deal with some of those matters today and my right hon. and learned Friend may say that they deal with them very well, but there will be a great increase in the work.

I am sure the Attorney-General is familiar with the many criticisms which are made in this respect. When the Rent Act was enacted there was the criticism that when cases came before the county court landlords desiring possession and tenants fighting cases had to wait for many months while in many cases the landlords did not receive rents. There are cases of great hardship, but we were promised that the work in the county courts would be speeded up. There was to be greater expedition, but I am not sure that we have had it. Complaints still continue of considerable delay because of the volume of work.

Will the county courts be able to cope with the work or will more county court judges have to be appointed? If so, will this mean more expense? What about the defended cases dealt with in the High Court? Very often they turn out to be undefended. Are they then to be remitted to the county court with more delay and expense involved or can they be dealt with as undefended by the High Court judge? What about the volume of work in the High Court itself? If we take away the undefended cases, which to a large exent are the brunt of divorce work, will there be enough defended cases to keep High Court judges engaged, or will they be wasting their time? I see my right hon. and learned Friend smiling, but this is a serious point.

The Attorney-General

I was smiling only because the real problem is to find the number of judge hours to provide for the courts. Our anxieties in respect of delays exist already, but there is no lack of employment of judges. On the contrary, the problem is to speed up the process of bringing cases to trial.

Mr. Weitzman

There has been no criticism today about speeding up all the work. It is dealt with expeditiously. It is serious to take undefended divorce cases away and leave them the defended cases. Will there be enough for the judges, or will they be wasting their time?

Unless it can be shown that there will be a considerable saving in money, there is no justification for this change, and I doubt whether there will be a considerable saving. We have not had any figure given to justify the suggestion that £400,000 would be saved. I have instanced a number of points where as a result of this Measure there may be greater expenditure of public money. I think everyone agrees that the present system works well. County court judges perform their duties admirably and there is little delay. Why change the system unless the money saved is worthwhile and there are no countervailing disadvantages?

My main criticism, following to some extent the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington, is of the piecemeal fashion in which a change of this kind is to be brought about. Divorce reform is long overdue. There have been a number of attempts made by private Bills to effect some reforms. They have been mainly unsuccessful in achieving their primary object.

It is time that something was done to recognise the need for divorce where there has been a breakdown of a marriage. I was glad to see the desire expressed by the Lord Chancellor to see divorce law rationalised and the establishment of real family courts, but in the same speech I was disappointed to learn that there is to be no Government Measure dealing with that matter this year. It might be next year or the year after, and it was suggested that it might not be a Government Bill but a Private Member's Bill. We know what chance there is of such a Bill ever reaching the Statute Book. I do not like a short Measure of this kind, which can be used to delay further action, being employed to show that the Government are doing something and that therefore the delay does not matter.

This Measure is unnecessary, because the present system is working well. I deprecate the division between defended and undefended cases. Undefended cases often involve questions of collusion and other important matters of difficulty. They are just as important as defended cases. I hope that I can persuade someone on the Government side to give a promise that at the earliest possible moment a Bill will be introduced to deal with these matters. It should not be left to the efforts of a private Member. It should be a Bill dealing as comprehensively as possible with divorce reform. In such a Bill there could be inserted consideration of proposals of the kind now proposed.

I echo the criticism that to put forward this so-called modest Measure is not warranted. It should be part of a greater scheme dealing with the question of divorce reform in all its aspects. I hope that the Government will tackle the whole problem effectively at an early date.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

It seems entirely appropriate that I, a former junior of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), should follow him and agree with every word he has said. The main argument for this Bill appears to be that it will save £400,000. I think everyone in this House will welcome any such economy, but I do not understand why the Government have turned a blind eye to a very simple alternative way of saving precisely the same sum of money. The saving, we are told, will be because there will be a fixed county court scale of costs which will be applied in all undefended suits. That is wholly admirable, but why cannot precisely the same be applied in the Divorce Division now?

This has been proposed by experts and no one can find any sensible reason for doubting the advantage of such a course. It would mean the end of the present system of taxing costs which has caused costs in undefended cases to rise from £90 ten years ago to £120 now. Counsels' fees have not gone up accordingly in that time, but the increase has been en- tirely in solicitors' costs. We should realise, and I do not think it is appreciated by the Government, that counsels' clerks are doing a fair proportion of the work for which solicitors are paid. Counsel and their clerks sometimes have to do one-third of the work for one-seventh of the fees. There is no reason why there cannot be a fixed scale of costs in undefended suits. This could be in line with county court scale and it would mean that the present system could be maintained and, at the same time, the £400,000 could be saved. I hope that the House will be given some explanation as to why this proposal has not been adopted.

An explanation should also be given as to why there has been this division between defended and undefended actions. Why should defended actions stay in the High Court and undefended actions go to the county court? Is it suggested that defended cases are too difficult for county court judges to try? If this is the suggestion, it is inconsistent with the praise which county court judges have received, and very rightly, both here and in another place when the Bill was introduced.

The reverse is the case. As a rule, defended cases are easy to try, as compared with undefended cases. I speak with certain knowledge that the Attorney-General has been engaged as counsel in a number of defended actions. I am sure he will agree that, by the time the judge begins to give judgment in a defended action, after the parties and their witnesses have given evidence and have been cross-examined, and after all the arguments and submissions have been heard, those involved know exactly what the outcome of the judgment will be.

As to undefended cases, it must be recognised that many a petitioner has gone to the High Court and obtained a decree when in fact he or she should have left the court empty-handed. Often a wife—I say this with regret, as I say it with experience—has trumped up a case against her husband, usually on the ground of cruelty, and her husband has declined to file an answer. He may have adopted this course because he wanted to get rid of a bad wife, or it may be that he did not have the funds available to contest the suit. Having been divorced, he finds some months later that he has lost his rights in respect of the children and also has to support his former wife for the rest of her life.

A judge with experience of defended causes can sometimes, with three or four perceptive questions, penetrate an undefended action and cause it to be dismissed. This is why there are more undefended cases dismissed by High Court judges than there are undefended cases dismissed by county court judges. In round figures, seven times as many undefended cases are dismissed by High Court judges as by county court judges. The Attorney-General may not have been outside the High Court when a county court judge is trying one of those long lists of undefended cases. Sometimes, usually in the early afternoon, an usher comes bustling along the corridor to say that one of the High Court judges has finished his own list and that he will take two or three cases from the county court judge's list. Again I can speak from experience. I know the flurry of excitement which is caused outside the court and the jockeying that occurs to prevent one's case from being transferred to the High Court judge.

This is a serious matter. High Court judges are continually trying defended cases and undefended cases and, as a result, they have a great wealth of experience in penetrating bogus undefended actions. They are judges who set high standards and who insist upon the rules being observed. This is not a criticism of county court judges as such. The truth is that only about half of the county court judges have any real experience of dealing with defended divorce matters. Only by hearing both sides of a succession of divorce actions over a period of years does a judge acquire sufficient judicial skill to be able to test an unmeritorious undefended suit.

This is why I believe that the Bill will, in its way, bring about a number of injustices. I do not wish to overstate my case. I do not think that there will be a large number, but I am certain—I say this from having handled quite a number of undefended actions over nearly 20 years—that there will be a number of injustices. This is why I much regret the Bill.

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North spoke about the status of the two courts. It seems strange that, if I lose my finger, the case is heard in the High Court, whereas, if I lose my wife, the case may be heard in the county court. If my car is in a collision, the case may be heard in the High Court, but if my marriage has a collision the case will be heard in the county court. I do not understand the Government's sense of values. I much regret that the Government do not appreciate that a broken home may have deeper and graver consequences than a broken limb.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) rebuked my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for having brought the Bill in at this stage. It ill-becomes the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deliver that rebuke. Since I entered the House eight years ago, I have on innumerable occasions asked former Governments to bring in a Bill similar to this. I refreshed my memory a little earlier today. On many occasions I addressed Questions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was Attorney-General, asking him to do precisely what the Government are now doing. On each occasion he gave me the most equivocal of replies. Therefore, such a rebuke comes ill from him.

It does not prevent me from addressing such rebukes. That is a different matter. I speak from stronger ground. I rebuke my right hon. and learned Friend only for bringing in a Bill which so obviously is too little and which so clearly is too late. It is a very modest Bill. It strips away a little of the humbug and hypocrisy with which our divorce laws and procedures are replete, in so far as the Bill acknowledges that people do not change their characters or their competence or their capacity as a result of switching from a purple to a black robe. To that extent at least, as was said in another place and as was repeated today by my right hon. and learned Friend, the Bill is an acknowledgement of the realities of the existing situation.

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) into the demarcation disputes which were implied in his speech. I am disinterested in following a course as to the relative merits of one or other branch of the profession presenting a simple undefended divorce. It ill-becomes anybody with any sophistication and who has had a clinical experience of the divorce courts not to acknowledge that nothing like the competence is required to put through and handle effectively a simple defended divorce case in comparison with the prolonged and detailed work which is sometimes required when handling a dispute in a matrimonial court before magistrates. It ill-becomes any member of the Bar, in rationalising concern about monetary matters, to present arguments which the Lord Chancellor regards, not surprisingly, as he indicated in another place, as specially interested. Therefore, I do not intend to follow my hon. and learned Friend into such demarcation disputes. I merely say that if the intention is to save money, if it is that there should be some relief from the Legal Aid Fund, then the Bill will fail in its purpose unless care is taken that there are not disincentives for solicitors to take a case in the court.

I am troubled that the Attorney-General, speaking, as he says as the titular Head of the Bar, takes the attitude that he assumes that solicitors will not be very vigorous in coming forward to take cases in the county court divorce courts. I think he should be encouraging them. If the object is to save money, he should be saying, as I hope I am saying, that it is the duty of solicitors to endeavour to ease the present burdens that fall on the legal aid fund by assuming a role which does not require them to duplicate their work and write out long briefs and present them to a young barrister so that he may merely get up and read for ten minutes something from a piece of paper in front of him. It should be the duty of the Attorney-General to call to the solicitors to help the Legal Aid Fund by showing a preparedness to act as advocates in the county court which will now have this jurisdiction.

More than that, I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to say something about agency work for solicitors. If we are aiming at reducing costs and are not getting rid of one piece of humbug only to substitute another, then since we know that in most provincial cities there are a handful of firms which by their nature are doing a considerable amount of divorce work and specalising in it, it is surely high time, given the existing overheads in all solicitors' offices, that we got rid of the old rule in county court work that it is not possible for solicitors to use another solicitor to appear for them in court. Otherwise, as the titular head of the Bar, the Attorney-General is in danger of being accused of trying to maintain a restrictive practice for the Bar. If his object is to save money, he should see to it that the Bill enables a solicitor to use any solicitor advocate in the town if he is prepared to do the work. Since one solicitor advocate may be appearing in a case and he may have eight or nine undefended cases, it would be convenient to all concerned that he should handle the other cases which may be in the hands of other solicitors in the town. I hope that this comparatively small detail can be reconsidered if it is the aim of the Bill to save some of the costs.

But since it must be clear to the Attorney-General already—it is clear to me from the number of hon. Members who are seeking to speak—that he is likely to get a reception for the Bill which is certainly a little less than enthusiastic, I should like to talk about the matter raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). When for the moment he deserted his unnatural conservatism—it is very alien to him and his disposition—and moved away from his professional position—again concerned, I fear, with a lot of restrictive practices—he came to the hub of the matter, which is that this unimportant little Bill is absurdly late. I cannot say that it expresses a particularly dynamic view after having taken all this time to emerge from the Labour Government after being frozen by past Governments. But it has come too late.

The Lord Chancellor has said in another place that divorce law reform is in the air. That, unfortunately, is exactly where it is—in the air. It is high time the Lord Chancellor brought it down to earth. After we have had the Law Commissioners Bill brought before the House, a Bill which was highly praised, a Bill expected to be a revolution almost, a Bill which appointed highly skilled men who, as all would acknowledge, are doing a splendid job, it is not good enough that when their Reports are published they are not debated in the House of Commons.

The Lord Chancellor declared in emphatic terms in a debate in another place last November the Government's neutrality to the debates on the reform of our divorce laws. "Neutrality" is one thing when it comes to a substantive matter. It is another thing apparently when it comes to saving a few hundred thousands pounds. There is a long and dishonourable tradition of neutrality on the part of Governments in avoiding initiating any divorce law reform. But the existence of the Law Commissioners and their Report on divorce create an entirely novel situation which surely makes it intolerable to the House that the Lord Chancellor, having called for the Report, should now on behalf of the Government apparently abdicate all responsibility for the manner in which consideration is to be given to the Law Commissioners' robust and realistic suggestions. It cannot be good enough.

The Law Commissioners in their divorce Report have been exceedingly sensitive to opinion in this House. They understood from the Second Reading of the Law Commissioners Bill that this House was jealous of its jurisdiction. They understood that because there was a novelty in the situation the House was sensitive that there should not be proposals by an outside body which went beyond lawyers' law and included the reform of social law. Anyone who has read the Report on divorce by the Law Commission must be strikingly aware that the Law Commissioners have responded to the mood of this House and been exceedingly careful in the manner in which they have presented a number of options for the House to consider.

The Report has been out for months, and it has been discussed in the other place. What is happening here? The Report has said, in terms as clear as possible, what the alternatives are and what the Law Commissioners regard as specific proposals. The Report says: If Parliament should indicate a clear preference for one or other solution and the matter were then referred back to the Law Commission for action, we have no doubt that we could work out detailed legislative proposals. What action have the Government taken? Bringing forward a little Bill of this character is in no way meeting the challenge that has been presented. Why is the Lord Chancellor apparently savaging his own proposals? What is the diffidence about asking the House of Commons to discuss the matter? What is even more disconcerting to the House is that if one reads the debate on this Bill in another place one finds a cosy atmosphere being built up which is a follow-through from the original cosy atmosphere of the debate on the Church's Report on Divorce, to discussions to which apparently the Lord Chancellor is privy. There are discussions going on at this moment between the Church and the Law Commissioners.

This has been clear from what the Lord Chancellor has said is happening. Has not this House got the right to consider these proposals? Has not this House the right to determine what the divorce law of the country will be? I confess to deep disappointment, because it appears to me and many others that initiative for law reform has been wrested by the Home Office, which is showing great courage and is prepared to assist in genuine and zealous reforming measures. Knowing as I do the reputation of the Attorney-General and his awareness of the need for changes in the substantive law, I cannot help but feel disappointed that after some years of Labour Government this silly little thing should be coming before us.

I will endeavour to encourage the Government. This House was kind enough to give me leave to introduce a Matrimonial Causes Bill. It will be published this week. It will adopt one set of proposals made—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Member, but I must remind him that it is outside the scope of this Bill to embark upon a debate of the reform of the substantive law of divorce.

Mr. Abse

There have been many references to this by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, who made it aboundantly clear that they consider that the defect of this Bill is that it should be coming before the House when the substantive proposals are in embryo and should have been disposed of before this Bill was treated in this way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has said that and other hon. Members have said the same. It is perfectly in order to oppose this Bill on the grounds that it is premature and that the substantive law of divorce ought to be dealt with first. It is outside the scope of this Bill to advocate specific reforms in the substantive law of divorce.

Mr. Abse

I will satisfy myself by saying that my Bill will certainly be dealing with substantive law. Adopting the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I hope that the Government will give consideration to the idea that before this Bill becomes law, we should be able to have a debate upon the substantive law and the proposals of the Law Commissioners.

The difficulty is that we have here a Bill which clearly says, despite the report of the Law Commissioners, that the existing powers affecting children should be vested in the county courts. We are doing this at a time when the Law Commissioners in their Report have expressed their disquiet about the position of children. This Bill vests in the county court judges powers enabling them to deal with questions affecting children in the same way as they are at present dealt with by the High Court. Yet we all know, as the Law Commissioners have stressed, that one of the most serious and disturbing aspects of the breakdown of marriage and divorce is the effect upon children. They are the innocent victims of their parents' marital difficulties, and they are vitally affected by the matrimonial proceedings.

Why should we confer powers which are already in existence and which the Law Commissioners have said are provisions which have been … widely criticised as inadequate, both in their scope and in the way that they are working in practice …". They go on to say: … we propose as soon as possible to institute an investigation—possibly in collaboration with an outside body—into this. Where is the sense of timing to introduce a Bill dealing with this matter on the assumption that it will save a little money but which will allow jurisdiction concerning the future of these children to be dealt with in a way which has been acknowledged by the Law Commissioners to be inadequate?

Although this is a Bill which is in some ways a response to something for which I have called for over eight years, it is certainly a very dusty answer. It limps behind events and behind the change in public opinion. It shows far too much pusillanimity on the part of the Government, whose Law Officers I know have the knowledge, wisdom and reforming zeal to bring before the House, or help to do so, the changes exhaustively suggested by the Law Commissioners.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

It must be a little galling to the right hon. and learned Attorney-General to find that every speech made from both sides of the Chamber has been critical of the Bill. Even the hon. Member for Ponty-pool (Mr. Abse) has hardly sung a paean of praise. He has complained about it for reasons entirely different from mine. He has complained that it is too late and too little. In so far as he, as a practising solicitor, like myself, wishes to snatch work away from the Bar I do not intend to follow him, because I have enough work to do without seeking more.

In so far as he is critical of the Bill because it is a small botched-up Measure which was not taken in the context of the general reform of divorce law, I agree with him. I suspect that I shall be as out of order in following him in this as he was in raising it. The only argument that I can find advanced for this Bill is that it will in some way save the taxpayers' money. My first comment is that it is remarkable and pleasantly surprising to find this Administration anxious to save the taxpayers' money. This is largely illusory, for reasons which I shall elaborate.

I should like to deal first with the point raised by me with the learned Attorney-General in an intervention on the general cost of divorce to the Legal Aid Fund. The Lord Chancellor unwittingly misled the other place when he was giving the average figures. According to my reading of the Law Society's Sixteenth Report of the operation and finance of the Legal Aid Acts for the year 1965–66, the total net cost of legal aid generally was £5,500,000, whereas the net cost of divorce under that heading was just over £2 million. That puts matters in a rather different perspective. It is different from saying that £3,500,000, which is the gross figure, is spent on divorce.

It is right to point out also that the average cost of a divorce has slightly diminished over the last year. The average cost, I understand, is something like £75, which is less than in the preceding two years. It is a fair comment to say that divorce is about the only commodity which has reduced in price in the last three years.

The saving angle of this Bill is very curious, because the Law Society has not been properly consulted about the principles of the Bill. It has been presented with a fait accompli, and told that the principles of the Bill are already decided. It has been asked to consider questions of principle and remuneration. Whether there is any saving depends upon the negotiations which are still in progress for a new county court scale. It seems to me quite remarkable that the Government should have introduced a Bill, the main object of which is alleged to be to save taxpayers' money, when there is no evidence that any saving will be made and when they admit that negotiations are still going on to see whether they will be made.

We are not told whether the work of solicitors and members of the Bar will be reduced. My view is that precisely the same amount of legal work will be involved to members of the profession whether divorces are heard in the county court or in the High Court in the Strand. If exactly the same amount of work is involved, it will be very surprising if either of the two professions agree to do the same amount of work for less remuneration.

By and large, I cannot see that there will be anything more than the absolute minimum saving to the Legal Aid Fund, against which must be set the extra costs which may very well arise by virtue of the transfer involved in the Bill. There is the extra cost of the shorthand writers. This is a factor which has to be taken into consideration. There is the increased staffing of the registries of the county courts. Increased staffs will be required for the service of proceedings which in the High Court is carried out by the parties.

There is the argument that this is a matter of convenience to the parties. I suppose that it would be very convenient to the parties if they could go to the post office and collect their divorce over the counter. I do not think that this is a valid argument. I do not believe that the convenience argument commends itself to either side of the profession. The inquiry agents, who are very much concerned with attending the hearings of divorce proceedings, have said that this will cause them great inconvenience, because, instead of having to attend a central court in London, they will have to spend time flitting about the country to attend courts. Section 89 of the County Courts Act, 1959, prevents a solicitor principal from instructing another solicitor to act as his agent advocate. That will have to be remedied, otherwise considerable difficulties will be caused as a result of the Bill.

We are told by the Lord Chancellor that a Bill setting up family courts will be introduced next Session. Therefore, why on earth introduce the Bill at this stage? What is the urgency for it? The Attorney-General should explain why it should be brought in so urgently, even if the hon. Member for Pontypool wanted him to bring it in years ago. I would pose to him the point which I raised in an intervention in his speech, namely, whether the Committee, under the chairmanship of Lady Emmet, which is advising on legal aid matters, has considered the cost element and, if so, whether the Government have taken it into consideration in producing the Bill. Will we hear anything from the Committee? What is the Committee doing if it is not to pronounce on this point?

It is apparent that there have been remarkably few consultations and discussions with outside bodies about the Bill. The Lord Chancellor seems to have made up his mind obstinately that divorce proceedings shall take place in the county courts, and has advanced that view regardless of outside views. Two Royal Commissions have pronounced against it, as the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said. The Church is largely against it. The Law Commission, Bar Council and Law Society have not really been consulted. Have the judges been consulted? I understand—I put it no higher than that—that the county court judges have decided against it. All in all, this is a hasty and ill-conceived Measure which I very much regret.

But, even if a saving to the taxpayer results, which I doubt, there is a fundamental point of principle which should be considered. It is true that one can exaggerate the importance of a Measure of this nature. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) said, one can exaggerate the effects which the Bill will have on the attitude to matrimony and divorce generally. Nevertheless, in recent years, there has been a whittling away of the importance of matrimony in the minds of the public. The respect for marriage has been diminishing. Every day we hear some crackpot pop singer or film star pontificating stupidly on the subject.

Any case which can be made out is a case for making marriage more difficult than making divorce easier. As a practising solicitor who has had a great deal to do with divorce cases, no one is more aware than I am of the farce and artificiality of much of our divorce law; there is no doubt about that. But that is not an argument for making divorce easier. Nor is it an argument in favour of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Pontypool said, it is an argument for considering the whole range of marriage and divorce.

Sophisticated people like the Lord Chancellor say that it is absurd and humbug to state that the same judge wearing different robes will have a different status. But this is not the way in which the public view it. The majesty of and respect for the High Court still have a very sobering effect on people. Whether the judge is a county court judge wearing different robes or not, he sits as a High Court judge in the High Court with that status. One might equally argue that a Parliamentary Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Minister, should not speak at the Dispatch Box and that it would be more honest if he went to the back benches. But he stands in for his Minister in the same way as the county court judge represents the High Court.

It would be a retrograde step if we moved towards the "dog licence theory" of marriage, or the idea that one can get a divorce from the post office. It is very regrettable that, as a result of this Bill, the bonds of civil marriage are regarded as less important than a civil debt of £401. That is its effect.

When speaking in the debate in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Pearce, posed two questions at the end of his speech. He said: Do you think that divorce is a very, very important matter? Secondly, do you think it is of any help in propping up marriage, in discouraging divorce, that it should be dealt with by the highest court in the land?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 14th February, 1967; Vol. 280, c. 193.] My answer to both questions is a very emphatic "Yes". Marriage and family life are the foundations of a civilised society. I do not want the Bill to pass without recording my protest at a Measure which I believe is based on an entirely false premise—that of saving the taxpayer money—and which, at best, can provide only a minimal or even illusory saving of public money and, at worst, may further reduce respect for the much battered fabric of matrimony.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I must declare my interest, as other Members have done. I am a Member of the Bar. I am thinking of resigning. I have listened to the general secretary of my union today blissfully throw away £400,000 of the incomes of members of the Bar without turning an eyelid, and the former general secretary of the union, from the Opposition Front Bench, calmly pats him on the back for doing it.

If this were a matter of the pay and conditions of delivery drivers in the Midlands, and if a former colleague were now in the House, I have no doubt that we should hear a great deal more about the Government's proposal to cut the standard of living of some of the working members of the population. But, because members of the Bar are involved, this is apparently accepted without demur. I believe, contrary to what some hon. Members have suggested, that there will be a saving to public funds as a result of the Bill. But, by and large, the saving will come out of the pockets of the Bar. The purpose of the Bill is to allow solicitors to handle undefended divorces. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that there are many solicitors who are quite capable and competent to do undefended divorces in the county court. There are a great many who are incompetent, but I suppose that that applies to the Bar, too.

I know that it is a comparatively easy and simple form of litigation for the practitioner, but it is also highly responsible if anything goes amiss, because this is a form of litigation in which the result can be disastrous if anything goes amiss. I concede that it does not often happen, but when it does the consequences are fearful. When one has conducted an undefended divorce action in the High Court and finds that a decree is denied, that the other party has no ground for a decree and that the parties must remain in holy deadlock for some considerable time, this is a highly responsible part of any advocate's work, and it merits the kind of pay which is given to work which is highly responsible. It is all very well to say that it is easy for an able practitioner to do it. It is easy for a garage mechanic to find out what is wrong with my car, even though I could not do it, but I pay him a sum commensurate with his ability to find out what is wrong with it. The same is true of the Bar.

I am in favour of doing away with restrictive practices, and I should welcome the abolition of this restrictive practice if we were not going to substitute for it another restrictive practice. When I was a young and struggling barrister I did a good deal of the work which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, work in matrimonial cases in magistrates' courts. This is often much more difficult and in the end much more determinative of what the result would be in the High Court. I did this work because I needed the money. The work was sent to me by solicitors, who normally took ten to fifteen guineas for this work and gave me three guineas. They did nothing. I did the work.

After a little while a change took place, as legal aid was given in the magistrates' court in matrimonial cases. I was suddenly being paid more than I could get for an undefended case in the High Court. For a little while I was happy and prosperous. But before very long the solicitors in the Law Society decided that this was an unfair form of creaming off and they made representations to the Government about the increasing costs of legal aid and how wrong it was that all this money was going into matrimonial cases. Before very long, a ruling was made that counsel should not be engaged in matrimonial cases in the magistrates' court unless the fee came out of the fee given to the solicitor for his work—an inclusive fee. We then reverted to the old system whereby the solicitor got the fee and the poor barrister, struggling at the beginning of his career, did the work.

I cannot see that replacing one form of restrictive practice by another is an advance, and therefore I am not wholly enamoured of the argument that we have to move with the times and to abolish restrictive practices. I should be a great deal happier if I could see some of the restrictive practices of both sides of the profession going equally. I should look with a great deal more favour on some of the representations of solicitors about the Bill if I could see conveyancing fees being altered to the benefit of the public.

I do not want it to be thought that I should be against a fundamental, radical change in the way in which we deal with divorce. I believe that the time has come for the country to face up to the problem of what we should do about the divorce laws. We have stumbled by an historical accident into allowing this part of human relationships to be governed by lawyers in legalistic terms. I welcome the new initiative which has been taken by the Churches in the Report about marriage. I do not share the view of that Report which was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool and to some extent by the Law Commission—the view that it is impracticable. It is impracticable as long as we look at the problem of the dissolving of marriage through lawyers' eyes and in legalistic terms. It is true that in legalistic terms it is probably impossible to staff the courts and to provide the courts with enough time to look into the causes of the breakdown of marriage. But why should lawyers be engaged on this task at all? This is a problem of human relationships. This is a problem as much for psychiatrists and social workers as it is for lawyers. Why should not the whole question of the breakdown of marriage be considered by committees not necessarily consisting of lawyers—although no doubt there would be legal representation—but consisting of people who are interested more in saving a marriage than in making a judicial decision about whether a marriage has broken down? If we were to approach the problem of the breakdown of marriage from this point of view, it would be unnecessary to argue whether we ought to have divorce in the county court or divorce in the High Court.

I agree with what has been said in the debate to the effect that before we had the Bill we ought to have started a fundamental reappraisal of the kind of legislation we ought to have about divorce. From my experience I do not believe that it helps the family to try to decide who was at fault, where the guilt lies or whether one party was more guilty than another in order to decide what the maintenance should be and who should have the custody of the children. This is not the way in which we govern human relationships in any other part of our life, and I do not believe that it should be the way in this most intimate form of human relationships within the family. A completely new study ought to be made along the lines suggested by the Churches' Report, but perhaps going even further. For that reason I would say that this Bill is irrelevant to the main problems facing us and that this pitiful saving of money—in my view it is pitiful—is rather a wasted effort.

When I came to the Bar, undefended cases were paid 5s. 2d. After a few years that was raised to 10s. 2d. which, I think, is the rate at the moment. That change was made as a result of the representation of the then Chairman of the Bar Council, the present Lord Chancellor. For him now to suggest that we ought to make a saving, in effect by cutting the fee of members of the Bar, seems highly ironic. If all that we are trying to do by the Bill is to make a saving of public funds, why would it not have been possible to do this simply by cutting the fees which are paid both to members of the Bar and to solicitors in undefended actions? This would have had the same effect. If we are saving a sum of £400,000, we are not doing so simply from court costs. It must be in relation to fees. If it can be done by the saving of money in the amount of fees awarded, why should not the present system continue with a reduced rate of fee? I should have thought that to have been a simple way of doing it without the trouble of putting a Bill through the House of Commons.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I shall strike a slightly discordant note because I support this Bill, and I welcome the intention behind it; I think I am the first Member on either side to do so. I think it is absolutely and clearly right to try to cheapen undefended divorce, and the Bill seems to me to be a step in that direction.

I wish simply to refer quite shortly to the vexed question of the right of audience referred to by other hon. Members and touched on by the hon. Gentleman the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). This, to my mind, is a perfectly straightforward issue of principle. Section 89 of the County Courts Act, 1959, perpetuates the old restrictive practice which, incidentally, is over a hundred years old. In Section 10 of the County Courts Act, 1852, one sees that it shall be lawful for the party to the suit or other proceeding, or for an attorney of one of Her Majesty's Superior Courts of Record, being an attorney acting generally in the action for such party, but not an attorney retained as advocate by such first mentioned attorney, or for a barrister retained by or on behalf of the party, on either side … to address the Court …". That was the position in 1852, and that was re-enacted again in Section 89 of the recent Act. Of course, in those days they called solicitors "attorneys"; now they are called solicitors. Hon. Members on both sides will know the provisions of the 1959 Act, but I will remind them of these words: In any proceedings in a county court any of the following persons may address the court, namely—

  1. (a) any party to the proceedings;
  2. (b) a barrister retained by or on behalf of any party;
  3. (c) a solicitor acting generally in the proceedings for a party thereto, but not a solicitor retained as an advocate by a solicitor so acting;
  4. (d) any other person allowed by leave of the court to appear instead of any party."
Put quite simply, this prevents a solicitor who is handling a case, but who cannot for any reason personally appear in court, from instructing a colleague, another solicitor, to present the case on his behalf. Let me give an example.

I must declare an interest: I am a solicitor. My firm in Chippenham is typical of firms in a provincial area. We do a certain amount of undefended legal aid divorces. Under this Bill, Chippenham will not have a county court where cases will be heard, because there is no High Court Registry in Chippenham. Cases will be heard in Bath, some 12 miles away. I imagine, and I hope, that many solicitors like me will take on the presentation of simple undefended cases in court. I hope that that is the Government's intention, and I hope that the Attorney-General will tell us whether it is his intention to encourage solicitors who feel competent and who have done all the work in preparing the case to stand up in court in front of a judge and present the case. I hope that I will do so on most occasions, but there will be occasions when, for instance, there is a three-line Whip, or I am on the Standing Committee on this Bill, or have some other urgent engagement, which will make it quite impossible to go down to the court and present the case.

Under the present ridiculous, old-fashioned restrictive practice it is impossible to ask a colleague, who is also a solicitor—from Bath, in the case I am giving—who has perhaps very long experience of this sort of case, to take the case on. One would have to get a barrister from Bristol or from London to go down to take the case. There is a further point which needs emphasising and that is that it will also be necessary to send down a representative from the solicitor's firm to sit behind the barrister to take instructions from the client.

As has been said before in this debate, if it really is the Government's intention—I believe it is—to reduce costs by this little Bill, surely the Government ought not to maintain this totally unjustified piece of red tap. I am familiar, of course, with the argument put forward by the Bar Council and touched on by certain hon. Members today, but I think the time has come now to make this change.

I hope that, as a result of this Bill, more and more solicitors will feel able to take divorce cases themselves, and therefore I hope that in the fairly near future appointments will be made from the ranks of solicitors to the county court bench, and I happen to be one of those who hope that in due course appointments will also be made from the solicitors' profession to the High Court bench as well. I think it quite right that solicitors should use their experience on the bench, and I hope that solicitors will not be limited simply to being county court registrars or coroners. There are many solicitors who are experienced people, who are not only lawyers but also men of the world in the fullest sense of that term, who would make excellent county court judges, and would be able to act in just those sorts of cases we are discussing this afternoon. Probably the Attorney-General will not be able to give detailed answers to all these points when he winds up the debate tonight, but I can assure him that to deal with these matters Amendments will be put down when the Bill is in Committee, and I hope that they will have a good reception from the Government in Committee.

I conclude as I began, by saying that I welcome this Bill and I am the only Member to have said so up to now.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)

I shall be the second Member to give, as the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) did, a welcome to this Bill. Of course, like my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), I wish that we were discussing a family courts Bill instead. One of the big difficulties in this House is to get enough time for any reform, and we spend much of our time in this Chamber and upstairs on modest Measures which would be better spent on major ones. Apart from that, I think that most of what the hon. Member for Chippenham has said about the Bill I myself would endorse.

This is, partly, a Bill about saving. I do not think that this House at the present time should be so reticent about saving a sum of approximately £400,000 a year, because this money is, I would submit, needlessly spent at the moment. By saving this money we would get no worse process of law or any diminution of court process, but rather a saving of money which at the moment is needlessly spent, needlessly spent, as my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) rightly and honestly pointed out, because barristers have got to be employed in cases which solicitors could perfectly well do themselves, because of the operation of the present system whereby undefended divorces are tried in the High Court and it has to be a barrister who presents a case.

As for the £400,000, if in fact that is the figure, even taking the legal aid figures which my right hon. and learned Friend referred to, my calculation is that it is something like 12 per cent. to 15 per cent. of the cost of legal aid divorces, and whether it is a gross figure or a net figure, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) discussed at such length, I do not think matters a great deal. Certainly, if it is a net figure, the saving is to the Exchequer, but if it is a gross figure the saving is to the litigant. Someone is saving as a result of this, and someone is saving because the old system is being eroded and the matter is being brought more up to date than before.

We have heard about the two Royal Commissions which discussed this matter in detail and concluded against it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) referred to that in 1912, when there were about 600 divorces a year being heard, not the 35,000 to 40,000 divorces a year which are being heard at the present time, and when there were no county court judges hearing divorce cases at all, undefended cases or defended divorce cases, when divorce was a very rare action to be brought before a court, except, virtually, by members of the aristocracy or very wealthy people.

Dignity has been talked about. I would prefer the dignity of a judge in a black robe in a proper court building, rather than, as would happen in certain provincial towns today, a case being heard in a room on the fifth floor of an office block—what is called a divorce court. Obviously the room is a court room, but it is not a court building. That is what is going on at present in our divorce law, where undefended divorces are heard by a divorce commissioner or county court judge sitting not in a court building but somewhere in an office block upstairs. There would be no loss of dignity, therefore, by this Measure.

Mention has been made of solicitors practising in the county court, and I need not declare an interest because, although I was a solicitor before I came to the House, I no longer practise. In this connection, it must be remembered that the majority of divorces start not in the divorce court or in the county court but in a magistrates' court before lay magistrates, the parties being represented by solicitors or sometimes by no one at all. That is where many divorce cases start, and that is the arena where the facts are tried. Once a case is over in the magistrates' court and a separation is granted on the facts, that separation is the basis of the undefended divorce which is the end product and which everyone knows will be the end product before starting in the magistrates court.

Solicitors deal very competently with separation cases in the magistrates court and with the tangled issues involved. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool that it is somewhat impertinent to consider that solicitors who have to fight issues in a magistrates' court are not competent to go to the county court and discuss the rather minor details which often are heard before the divorce court itself in a hearing lasting four, five or six minutes if the list is fairly long.

I endorse what my hon. Friends the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) and the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) said about Section 89(c) of the County Courts Act, 1959. In this Bill, which is designed to some extent to modernise divorce procedure and specifically to save money in divorce procedure, it would be indefensible to leave in that 120 year old rule which was brought in at a time when there were signs of unemployment in the profession. At times of acute unemployment, there may be cause for restrictive practices, but there is no cause for them today. If my right hon. and learned Friend does not amend that Section, it will be a bad example to show to employers and trade unions indicating that the Government see a clear restrictive practice before them and do nothing about it.

I would go further than the hon. Member for Chippenham on the practical effects of the rule. He said that if an hon. Member who happens to be a solicitor could not get to a court, it would be desirable for him to get a colleague to go along. However, it goes deeper than that. Most divorces have in them the element of desertion. It may be simple desertion for three years. It may be desertion coupled with adultery or cruelty. The fact that it is desertion means, very often, that the deserting party not only deserts from the matrimonial home but from the town in which it is situated. The situation arises very often where the parties to the marriage live miles apart. If Section 89(c) remains in operation a solicitor for one party who needs representation on matters of custody, access and, most of all, maintenance will either have to go himself to the court or will have to brief counsel and send a senior member of his staff to assist counsel in that court. Counsel cannot take statements from witnesses, amend discretion statements and so on, which very often are matters arising immediately before the hearing. Alternatively, the solicitor will have to engage an agent solicitor in that other town, and counsel as well. If Section 89(c) were amended, the solicitor could easily brief another solicitor in that other town who was equally competent, without sending people to sit behind him, and that solicitor could deal with all matters which arose. That would result in a further saving in costs.

I welcome the Measure, as the hon. Member for Chippenham has done. It is a good Bill. I wish that it was the family courts Bill, but it is not. Let us be thankful for what we have. However, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will look into this serious matter of a restrictive practice right under the nose of the Government, not only for the sake of the Bill but for the sake of the example which it gives to the whole country.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

As a practising member of the Bar, I, too, must declare an interest. However, like the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), it is some years since I had a financial interest in undefended divorce.

I wish to echo the three points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), not for the purpose of repeating them, because I shall seek to avoid repetition of the precise grounds put forward by him, but because I believe that they are three points which are regarded as important by a lot of people. Certainly I regard them as of great importance, and I wish to refer to them again for that reason and to stress that my hon. Friend is not the only one who takes the view that they are important but that he speaks for a good many other people, including myself.

Before the debate concludes, I hope that the Attorney-General will give us a little more information about the savings which will result because, as my hon. Friend said, that is the only reason of substance put forward for the Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) said that we must be careful that, even if the saving is £400,000, we do not throw away something else to effect that saving. He said that £400,000 is not an insubstantial sum and, therefore, if the Bill will save it, it is an argument in favour of it. However, I suggest to the Attorney-General that, so far, we have had no convincing particulars of how that sum is to be saved, and I put it to him in the following way.

There are 40,000 divorces a year, and that means a saving of roughly £10 on each divorce. However, 4,000 are defended, and there will not be a saving there, so perhaps a better estimate would be £12 10s. Nothing will be saved on the court set-up because, at least in the initial stages, there will be additional expense involved in providing additional staffs and offices to cope with the extra work in the county courts. The saving will not be there. I should like the Attorney-General to tell us, either when he comes to reply or later, whether the initial extra cost which is expected to result has been calculated. If it has, it means that not only has one to take £12 10s. off the costs. One has to take off a proportion of the extra costs as well.

I suggest to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes), my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) and others who might take the same view that one merely confuses and bedevils the issue if one goes too deeply into who does what and into what the hon. Member for Pontypool called demarcation disputes. What matters is not who does what, but what the costs are for any given item. I would illustrate that briefly by following up the hon. Gentleman's example. He gave the House the impression that if all the work was done by solicitors, that in itself would mean a substantial reduction in costs, and he referred to occasions when he might be doing eight or nine cases in the local county court and handling others as agent for his legal brethren round about.

There may be a fallacy there. If counsel are employed, it means less work for the qualified man to do in the solicitor's office. If he instructs counsel to advise on whether there are grounds for a case, that is one job less to be done in his office. If he does not instruct counsel, it has to be done in his office by a qualified man. If he does not instruct counsel to advise on evidence, it has to be done by a qualified man in his office. If he does not instruct counsel to attend the hearing, a qualified man will have to attend. It will not do to send a clerk as is done in many cases.

Mr. Oakes

If a solicitor employs counsel, he has to attend court himself, or send a senior member of his staff to sit behind counsel.

Mr. Percival

Perhaps it is permissible to speak from personal experience, even if it is of a few years ago. That is contrary to my experience. One often had a typist, or the newest office boy. I make no complaint about that because, in some cases it was unnecessary for there to be anybody else and that is why they were sent. If counsel are not to be instructed, that practice will not continue, and qualified men will have to be sent. That immediately raises the question whether there are enough qualified men to do this work. I understood that there was a shortage, but never mind about that for the moment. It does not matter who does it. It must be somebody who has qualified at the Bar, or through the Law Society.

What matters is what the fees will be for each item, whoever does it. This is what will determine whether there is a saving or not. It will also determine who will do the work, because I agree with what was said by one hon. Gentleman opposite, that if the fees are too low solicitors will instruct very young members of the Bar. After all, why should they not do so? I do not complain that this is wrong, because we know what happens. What will determine whether there is a saving is the fee which will be paid for each item. Once that it determined, that will determine whether the work will be done by a solicitor or by a young man at the Bar. At the moment we have no information about those fees. Stories have been going around about an overall fee of £45 for a solicitor doing a case. There have been stories that the reduction is counsel's fee is to be one guinea, and I hope that the Attorney-General will carry the matter further when he winds up the debate.

It is difficult to believe that any estimate can have been made of the saving unless some estimate has been made of what the costs are to be in future. One cannot begin to see what the picture will be. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are talking in the air about who will do the work until we know what fees will be paid. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to help the House a little more about this when he winds up the debate, because it is only by getting that information that the House can judge whether there is any weight in the contention that the argument in favour of the Bill is the saving that will be made.

I support what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and by one other of my hon. Friends about the timing of this Measure. At the conclusion of his speech in another place the Lord Chancellor spoke of the desire to set up family courts, and said that whilst these could not be promised this year, he could not see any reason why they should not come in next year. I would not dream of holding the noble Lord to a year. Something may happen to prevent it for another year, but the Lord Chancellor was speaking of this as something imminent. I go further than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington who suggested that this was an error of timing. I put it higher than that, and I put my point in the form of a question. Can it be right to start now to reorganise the county courts, to build up the county court registries so that they can deal with 40,000 cases, to get the extra accommodation, and to get the extra staff to deal with the consequences of this Bill when, within the next year or two, or perhaps three, we are proposing to have a different system altogether which will destroy all that?

This is not only premature. It is more than just a question of timing. It is sheer folly to do this if what one has in mind is another kind of court to be introduced within a year or two. The folly of it is emphasised by the fact that I do not believe there is anybody in this House, be he a lawyer or not, who does not agree that the important thing is to have family courts. Why can we not get on with providing them, and not have the upheaval which will be caused by this Bill, to say nothing of the extra expense which will be involved? Why can we not concentrate on getting on with the plan for family courts?

Finally, I beg the House not to underestimate the importance of what we are doing with regard to the institution of matrimony. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington told the House that the Gorrell Commission, the Denning Committee, and the Morton Commission—and they were not all lawyers, but lawyers and laymen representing a great cross-section of opinion which should be respected—having considered all the things about which we are talking, said that it was in the interests of preserving the status of matrimony that its dissolution should be dealt with in the High Court. They are not the only people who have said that. During the Second Reading in another place the noble Lords Lord Pearce and Lord Denning made moving and weighty speeches on this very issue. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we must not exaggerate this. Nor must we overlook it. If we are really satisfied that there is some substantial advantage which is proved, it might be right to say that that outweighs the risk of further lowering the status of marriage, but unless some substantial advantage is proved, I think the House ought to pay attention to the view which is held by many people with a great deal of experience that this transfer might increase the divorce rate by lowering the status of marriage in the minds of a few more people. I hope that all these matters will receive a lot more serious consideration before the House parts with the Bill.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I shall not immediately follow the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), although I shall advert to some of the points he made.

I would like to apologise to the Attorney-General, and indeed to the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson), for not being present to hear their opening speeches, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in this debate.

I do not welcome the Bill. I do not think that it is justified at this juncture. I am a believer in the reform of our divorce law, and of our divorce procedure. In fact, I am one of the sponsors of the Bill to which the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) referred. There is a great danger apparent during this debate to have special pleading on behalf of the solicitors' profession or the Bar, but this really is not a matter with which we are concerned in this House, or should not be. It is for the professional bodies to fight out these matters. We are concerned with them only in so far as they affect the public, as our laws are made to serve the public and to preserve society.

I think we must remember that marriage is still firmly the basis of society in the Western world, particularly in this country. If we are to have fundamental changes in our law, these changes should be properly debated. I think the suspicion has been created that this Bill is trying to introduce divorce law reform by the back door, and that ought not to be the process employed.

I cannot believe that there will be a saving of £400,000 by this procedure. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Southport effectively demolished the suggestion that there would be this saving, and other hon. Members have done so, too.

When schemes are put forward for reform on the basis of financial savings, those who make the calculations so often over-estimate the savings, or completely ignore additional costs arising out of the reform. I am not convinced that money will be saved in this case. In any event, although the sum of £400,000 is not an insubstantial one, such a saving would not be a justification for the Bill.

Another argument put forward concerns the convenience of the parties. I am a practising member of the Bar but not usually concerned with undefended divorce, although I was detained this afternoon by a divorce case which, originally defended, subsequently became undefended. Years ago I was concerned in lots of undefended divorce cases, and in my experience most parties preferred to have their cases tried away from their home towns.

It is not without significance that there is a rule which prevents the publication by newspapers of evidence in divorce cases. Only the judgment can be published. In an undefended case all that the judge does is to pronounce or refuse a decree nisi and that alone is published. That is in order to protect the parties. If divorce cases are tried in every county court town members of the public will be tempted to attend in order to hear evidence concerning their neighbours.

In undefended divorce cases most of the witnesses are professional. In the High Court or at a divorce centre these professional witnesses would normally deal with many cases, but if the courts at which they have to attend are scattered their fees will naturally be higher. All these matters must be weighed in the balance in considering the interests of the parties. Under our present divorce law, most litigants would certainly not want their cases to be dealt with in their immediate locality.

Furthermore, in an undefended divorce case a judge depends very much upon the advocate who is conducting the case. An undefended divorce case can sometimes be very difficult. The advocate has to consider what he should disclose to the court and what he should not. The question requires experience and judgment. Such a case is not normally left to a young and inexperienced barrister but to one more experienced. I am not arguing now that an experienced solicitor might not do it equally well, but it will be more expensive to get a man to handle a single difficult undefended divorce case, whether he be a solicitor or a barrister, whereas if a man is doing other cases as well, as normally he is doing today, his fee will be no different in respect of difficult cases. It will be difficult to persuade an experienced and senior man to undertake an isolated difficult case.

As the Lord Bishop of Exeter said in another place, the effect of the transfer of undefended divorce cases to the county courts is not known. We do not know what the effect will be on the public mind. The Gorrell Commission of 1912 and the Morton Commission in 1956 both came down firmly against a transfer of divorce cases to county courts. In a Bill of this kind, how do the Government justify a basic change in our divorce procedures without having a major debate on divorce, particularly when they are flying in the face of the recommendations of the Commissions?

Even on the Government's own case there is little to be gained by the Bill. It is difficult for the Government to say to the public, "We are concerned simply with a matter of convenience and the saving of £400,000. That is our concern, and we are introducing this Bill for that purpose." The hon. Member for Pontypool knows that I am in favour of basic changes in our divorce law. Some of that law approaches the farcical, as does the way in which it is sometimes manipulated. Injustices are often caused to innocent people by the stubborn and selfish attitude of one partner to a marriage. The question of divorce reform should be discussed fully and widely in the country and in the House. But that is no justification for this puny Bill.

In various speeches, including a speech by the Lord Chancellor in another place, suggestions have been made that a judge is the same judge whether he is wearing his county court robes or sitting as a Commissioner in the High Court. But this is a question of status. In the minds of the public the High Court is concerned with major cases—serious matters, the crime of murder; serious civil cases; important libel cases—whereas county courts are concerned with such matters as a failure to pay rent or to pay hire-purchase instalments. If we transfer jurisdiction in divorce cases to the county courts without further ado, in the mind of the public we might be devaluing the status of marriage and divorce in a similar way, and this is a course which should not be embarked upon lightly.

Serious arguments can be put up on both sides. I agree that divorce should be cheaper. I am in favour of setting up family courts, which should have jurisdiction in divorce matters, but we are not concerned with that now. We are concerned with a Bill which merely transfers divorce jurisdiction to the county courts. It is not without significance that in 1964 High Court judges hearing undefended divorces refused decrees proportionately in seven times the number of cases that county court judges, sitting as Commissioners, refused them. It is not that High Court judges take a different view of the sanctity of marriage; it is, I suspect, that they hear so many defended divorce cases that they are a little more circumspect in accepting evidence that is otherwise unchallenged. If that were not the case it would be difficult to explain the enormous difference between the results of undefended cases heard by High Court judges as compared with those heard by county court judges.

In view of the Report of the Royal Commission and the views of the Lord Bishop and the Churches, already expressed, it is clear that this change of jurisdiction is in itself completely unjustified. If the Lord Chancellor is right, and we can expect legislation on family courts next year, what justification is there for introducing this Bill now? The reasons put forward by the Government are quite unsatisfactory. They are the slimmest reasons that could be imagined, on any possible view. Many arguments can be put forward showing why divorce cases should not be transferred to the county courts now, and I hope that the Government will have serious second thoughts about the Bill. When we do have a discussion on divorce law and procedure it should be a fully fledged debate on the fundamental principles involved.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Buck (Colchester)

It would be appropriate if, like other hon. Members, I declared an interest in that I am a practising member of the Bar and I occasionally do undefended divorce cases. I have it on the very best authority—that of my clerk—that my interest in the matter is not very great and that I am unlikely to find an expanding practice in this sphere so that my interest is strictly limited.

I agree with every word that was said by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). Like him, I think that it would be a great pity if this became a demarcation dispute between the Bar and solicitors.

It could be said that today has not been a very happy exercise for the Attorney-General or for the Government. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) spoke, the nearest that the Bill had had to a compliment was the remark of the hon. Member for Pontypool that the Bill was too little and too late—that is, other than the self-laudatory remarks of the Attorney-General.

Let us consider the background. As has been pointed out by other hon. Members, the whole question of whether divorce should be considered in the county court has been examined authoritatively on several occasions. In 1912—it is true that the circumstances then were different—we had the Royal Commission under Lord Gorrell which led to a complete rejection of the suggestion that divorce cases should be tried in the county courts. We next had a Committee under Lord Denning, which considered similar matters, although it had more limited terms of reference. Mr. Justice Denning, as he then was, was asked to consider how the immediate situation after the war, when there was a great increase in the number of cases to be tried, should be dealt with. This Report conceded that county court judges should sit to try divorce cases but governed by High Court procedure, with the assistance of members of the Bar appearing before them and with the usual procedure which takes place in the High Court. Lord Denning suggested that both types of divorce should be dealt with in this way, defended and undefended.

In 1956 we had a further Royal Commission under Lord Morton of Henryton. This was a complete reconsideration of all the matters which had been considered in 1912. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes)—I do not see him in his place—said that the situation was different in 1912, the implication being that the Royal Commission of 1912 no longer had great validity. But it has much more validity when we consider that it was all reviewed no so very long ago by Lord Morton's Royal Commission when it was reaffirmed as being of the highest importance in divorce and matrimonial cases that the matters should be considered by the High Court. This extremely powerful Royal Commission made the recommendation that divorce should be considered by the highest court of the land. It is of interest that there are many high judicial authorities who have not changed their minds since the Royal Commission presided over by Lord Morton and that there are important members of the ecclesiastical world who subscribe to the same view. It is difficult to see how the circumstances have changed.

The proposition which was basic to the Royal Commission and its thought was that the state of matrimony is of profound and fundamental importance—not only of obvious importance to the individual but of profound and fundamental importance, too, to the nation. This being the case, the view taken by successive Royal Commissions was that the nation should lose no opportunity in stressing this importance. I hope that I shall be forgiven by my lawyer friends if I say that it comes to this—that matrimony should not only be important but that it should be seen to be regarded by the State as being important and that no opportunity should be lost to emphasise the high importance of the state of matrimony and the view which the nation takes of it. Thus, the Commission strongly recommended that matters of status and matrimony should be dealt with by the supreme court of the land.

What has happened over the last 20 years is highly relevant. This is the case put forward by those who wholeheartedly support the provisions of the Bill. Over the last 20 years county court judges have dealt with undefended divorce cases in an entirely satisfactory way. But it does not necessarily follow, it is not clear as the Government suggest, that because this has happened they should now do so in their county court status and not in the enhanced status with which they have performed these duties up to now.

The proposition obviously has attractions, but let us consider what is being said. A county court judge is capable, and is to continue to be capable, of being elevated from time to time to a superior status. From time to time a county court judge is asked to become a commissioner. He is elevated in status. But no one can be happy about a Bill which says, "It is true that county court judges can be given additional status when they are asked to do work of special importance, but we do not think it necessary to give them the highest possible status which they can attain when they try divorce cases." This hardly enhances the status of matrimony in the eyes of the nation.

I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would deal with this point, which applies even more cogently in the case of registrars. The one hundred and one registrars in the country have two hats, as it were. They have their hat as registrars of the High Court and they also have their less important hat as county court registrars, and they are to continue to have their two hats to wear. But the Bill says, "You are to have your everyday status when dealing with matrimony. You are elevated to superior status only when dealing with such important matters as claims above £500."

I do not think that we should be very sanguine about the effect which this will have in fostering the status of matrimony—and it was the status of matrimony which was one of the basic reasons why such authoritative bodies as have considered this matter have come firmly to the view that it should be considered by the supreme court of the land.

May I put another point to the Attorney-General—although not a point which I should stress as it is in danger of becoming a demarcation point. Over the last 20 years, when, it is agreed, we have had the satisfactory disposition of our undefended divorce cases, county court judges have had appearing before them counsel supported by solicitors, which is the normal way under our legal system of dealing with more important judicial matters. Does the Attorney-General think that this has been of any value in the last 20 years? I have talked to several county court judges who take the view that it has been of considerable value in dealing with the large number of cases in an orderly way and in a way full of decorum and with the minimum of deception by anybody. They say that this system has been of considerable help over these years in maintaining the high standards which we have seen. Does the Attorney-General agree with that or does he feel that this system whereby the solicitor instructs a barrister had had no effect at all? If so, then it is right that as head of the Bar he should say so. If he thinks that the system has been of considerable value over the last 20 years, is he entirely happy about an alteration in it?

There will certainly be some saving by these proposals. It is difficult to discuss this matter before we have some figures. I understand that the negotiations over fees are advanced and perhaps we can have some guide lines now about the expected scale. There is understandable alarm on both sides of the profession at the wording of Clauses 8 and 9. The fees … shall be such as the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Treasury may from time to time by order made by statutory instrument prescribe. That is not exactly reassuring to my legal colleagues. What criteria will the Lord Chancellor use to decide the fees? Will it just be what the Treasury agrees? The bedfellow of the Treasury's concurrence makes one pessimistic about what will be decided.

Further I am sure that, at a later stage, the right hon. and learned Gentleman-will have no objection to an Amendment to the effect that fees shall constitute fair remuneration. We can perhaps discuss that later—

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman will realise that these are the arrangements which presently exist in respect of county court fees.

Mr. Buck

Yes, but there is no such formula about their fairness. Therefore, when the Lord Chancellor's bedfellow is the Treasury, both sides of the profession feel that some formula which would be a tactful reminder of their fairness would not be amiss in Clause 9. There can be no objection to such an Amendment if they are to be fair.

I should be interested to know how the figure of a saving of £400,000 was arrived at and what detailed study was done to form it in conjunction with the Law Society and the Bar Council. The Bar would be interested to know the basis of the guess of 25 per cent. of undefended cases likely to be undertaken by solicitors. I imagine that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will clear up the question of the total cost of legal aid.

The figures which he will know were put forward by the Lord Chancellor in another place, who said that the total cost of legal aid was over £5½ million during the year 1965–66, of which £3¼ million was the cost of divorce, and he then gave other figures. Was like compared with like? What is the basis for the suggestion of a saving of £400,000?

I should be much happier had we been discussing today a Measure to set up family courts or to reform our divorce law. It is a pity that we should have this relatively unimportant, or certainly not very useful, Measure at this stage. If the Government speed along their plans to set up family courts and soon present us with that legislation, this somewhat unhappy little Bill might not do very much harm.

7.15 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) gave the Bill his support, however qualified. I wish that some of his approval had been radiated to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), who was almost wholly critical. It is, at any rate, happy to feel that whatever divisions there may be about the Bill have not been on party lines.

I spite of the criticisms which have been made, I remain satisfied that the Bill, although admittedly modest, is useful, practicable and—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—overdue. It rationalises what has been going on for 20 years and is a logical development of it. There is no evidence that the fact that the vast majority of divorce cases since the war have been tried by county court judges has lowered the status of marriage. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman my predecessor that it is extremely doubtful, to put it at its lowest, whether to give county court judges in name jurisdiction which they have been exercising so long in practice will damage the institution of marriage.

The Bill is procedurally desirable and a necessary measure of tidying up. It would therefore be wrong to hold it up pending a major Bill rationalising the substantive divorce law. I entirely agree about the need for that and can only hope that the enthusiasm expressed on both sides of the House about proposals to rationalise the law will maintain their momentum to the time when that law is considered by the House.

It is immensely encouraging, as my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said in another place, that the gap between the views of the committee appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and those of the Law Commission is narrowing. That kind of development leads to hope that the measure of rationalisation generally demanded in the House today may not have to wait very long.

However, that is not the matter with which the Bill is concerned. It is a limited procedural Bill and will certainly not delay rationalisation of our divorce law. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) wondered whether county court judges would be able to cope with the work involved in the Bill. I think that they will. They have done so up to now and, of course, under the Bill they will no longer be required to try short defended cases, although for an interim period the arrangements whereby they have been sitting as Commissioners they continue. But the intention is that they should do no more short defended cases.

Perhaps we can pursue most of the questions asked in Committee, but I will deal with some. It is our view, in regard to jurisdiction on ancillary matters, that the sensible division of jurisdiction is to leave the same judge to deal with every aspect of a case, if that is practicable. The Denning Committee and many other Committees have said that the judge who deals with the substantive issues should, so far as practicable, also deal with the ancillary matters.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington asked why the general principles of the Bill were not applied to London. Careful thought has been given to this matter. There was not a central, or convenient county court which could be, so to speak, taken over for these purposes. It has been felt that the balance of convenience for litigants and the legal profession is best served by concentrating the work in the principal registry but providing for some courts, conveniently placed on the periphery of the Greater London area, to do divorce work as well.

A great deal of discussion has taken place in the debate on the relative role of barristers and solicitors. I agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said; that this is, above all, a matter for the professions to decide between themselves. I was asked by the hon. Member for Colchester whether, however, I agreed that the contribution of counsel in the past in their part in divorce proceedings had been valuable. Of course that contribution has been valuable. I ventured tentatively to express the view in opening the debate that solicitors may think that, by and large, this work could still perhaps conveniently be dealt with by counsel in a large number of cases. I was asked by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) whether I would encourage solicitors to handle these cases. All that I can properly say is that it is not for me either to encourage or discourage solicitors to appear in undefended cases. No doubt they will seek to do what is best in the interests of their clients and the administration of justice. I am bound to agree—not because he is my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor but as a matter of opinion—with what the Lord Chancellor said in another place; that it would be both difficult and unsatisfactory to alter the rules relating to agency to apply to divorce cases only.

A number of questions have been addressed to me about the financial aspects of this matter. I have gone into the figures which I gave in opening the debate, and I find that the two figures are comparable. I was about to say that the hon. Member who asked me about this matter, the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), was not in his place, but I notice that he has moved into a position of greater significance, or whatever it might be, on the Opposition Front Bench. The figures are comparable. Both are gross figures—£5,575,000, of which £3,320,000 is attributable to divorces. The extent of the legal aid commitment is clear from that. I have the figures with me for the previous year, 1964–65, and they show that the gross figures were very much the same as the gross figures for last year. The grand total was £5,184,000 in respect of payments to solicitors and counsel for profit, costs, disbursements and fees. The figure in respect of matrimonial causes for similar payments was £3,154,000. The same sort of ratio has applied as the years have gone by—with, of course, the gross expenditure to the taxpayer increasing phenomenally.

It has seemed to the Government—who are under constant pressure, certainly from the Opposition, to reduce public expenditure—that we should see if something could fairly be done in this sphere without in any way damaging the administration of justice or the proper respect for marriage. What is proposed will, we believe, achieve a substantial saving.

I gave the tentative figure of saving some time ago of £400,000. The figures I shall give are somewhat tentative and may prove to be an underestimate. As a series of Administrations have learnt, Government estimates of expenditure have a way of being greater than was estimated. That is why I thought is better to strike a more modest figure, in considering what could be saved if the proposals which my noble Friend has in mind are accepted. I hasten to repeat what I said at the outset; that they are at present a basis for discussion, but it is hoped that they will be thought by the professions to be reasonable and acceptable.

The basis of the savings is as follows. They will be effected as a result of the Bill in the 27,000 legally-aided cases a year and the calculation is made on the assumption—which is, admittedly, a very tentative one—that perhaps 25 per cent. of these cases will be conducted by solicitors. We have taken soundings with the Law Society. There have been consultations with the Law Society about this matter and, of course, with the county court judges and the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. The reaction that we have had is that the probability will be that about 25 per cent. of these cases will be conducted by solicitors, and the rest by counsel. We may be wrong in that estimate. That is why I repeat that these are tentative figures.

The savings will be on these lines: where a case is conducted by a solicitor without counsel, there will result a saving in counsel's fees of £18 12s. 4d. and a saving in solicitor's charges of £6, making a total saving of £24 12s. 4d. Multiplied by a quarter of the 27,000 legally-aided cases gives one a grand total of £166,210. Where counsel is briefed to conduct a case, the saving in counsel's fees—that is, the difference between the High Court and county court fees—will be £2 2s. 4d. and the saving in solicitor's charges will be £16. Thus, there will be a saving in those circumstances where counsel was briefed of £18 2s. 4d. a case. And if that is multiplied by 20,250, one achieves a total saving of £367,331. On this calculation, the saving to the taxpayer reaches a total of over £500,000. Those are the sort of figures which it is hoped will be accomplished as a result of scales which, it is thought, are reasonable but which, as I say, are still the subject of negotiation.

I therefore commend this Bill to the House as achieving a measure of improvement in our court agreements which is long overdue and, at the same time, rendering some relief to the harassed taxpayer.

Mr. Percival

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, will he answer two questions? Do I understand that one of the savings to which he referred lies in the fact that where a solicitor does all the work that is at present done by counsel he will receive £6 less than he now receives?

The Attorney-General

That is so, yes.

Mr. Percival

Secondly, has any estimate been made of the extra expense involved in this reorganisation? This is a net saving on solicitors' and counsels' fees—is it said that there will be no extra expense?

The Attorney-General

I should have thought not. The court fees will be county court fees.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity of correcting what I inadvertently said to the House—rather encouraged by the hon. Member for Colchester. The fees mentioned in Clause 8 refer to court fees. The remuneration to counsel and solicitors is dealt with in Clause 9. I misled myself and the House by taking up the point on Clause 8. These, however, are the facts. Court fees will probably remain unchanged, and I do not expect that as a result of these arrangements there will be any increase of expenditure which will in any sense be substantial to be set off against the savings I have indicated.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).