HC Deb 31 January 1973 vol 849 cc1354-6
21. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what complaints he has received in the last three months concerning the need to reform the divorce law in order to bring it more into harmony with that of England; and what was the nature of his reply.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Since 1st November 1972 my right hon. Friend has received one letter from a Member of Parliament and four letters from members of the public on this subject. The writers have been told that divorce law reform raises moral and social issues on which opinion is still sharply divided and which, in the Government's view, are more appropriate to a Private Member's Bill than to Government-sponsored legislation.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman realise how very unsatisfactory that answer is? Is not it the case that the Scottish Law Commission, the Church of Scotland, the Law Society, vast numbers of people and hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as the Scottish Office itself, want to bring the law in Scotland into line with that in England? It is deplorable that the Scottish Office should offer me help to draft a Private Member's Bill at the same time as another member of the same Cabinet refuses to guarantee time for a Bill to be debated on a free vote of the House. It is absurd.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the feelings which are strongly held in certain quarters. But he ignores the very strong feelings held by certain individual Members of this House, as previous attempts to introduce legislation of this kind have shown. As for the attitude of the Government, there is nothing unusual in what we are doing. It compares with what the Labour Government did in relation to legislation of this nature.

Mr. Grimond

I agree that there are precedents for the Government's action, but are there not also precedents for the Government making time available for a measure of this kind? I can remember other Bills which aroused tremendous passions on both sides and which involved great questions of moral decision, but the Government found time to debate them.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, questions of time are matters for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. What the Government have done so far is in no way inconsistent with what has been done before.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Is this the kind of subject which the Scottish Council on Crime might be asked to consider?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I must confess that I fail to see the direct connection. Perhaps my hon. Friend will explain it to me after Questions.

Mr. John Smith

How long will the Government go on evading their responsibility in this matter? Are we to understand that as long as the present Government remain in office they will ignore the opinion of the Law Commission, the Law Society, the Church of Scotland and other bodies? If views are strongly held by some hon. Members, why not make it subject to a free vote in this House?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The vehicle of Private Member's legislation is the correct way. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) has received the leave of the House to introduce a Bill.

Mr. Robert Hughes

How long will the Government evade their responsibilities to thousands of families and children in Scotland who are suffering personal misery because the law is so different? Will not the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is wrong for him to try to escape this responsibility by blaming the procedures of this House for the delay?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There are difficulties, and the Scottish Law Commission has drawn attention to them. However, the hon. Gentleman is grossly exaggerating the problems arising from this matter. I ask him for more evidence on the way in which this difference in law causes difficulties. I appeal to him to respect the deeply held views of certain individual Members of this House as shown by previous debates on this matter.