HC Deb 09 December 1974 vol 883 cc25-7
59. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Attorney-General if he will take steps to set up a separate family court, as recommended in the Finer Report.

The Attorney-General

As I stated in the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on 21st November—[Vol. 881, c. 487]—decisions as to the committee's recommendations on family courts must await decisions on the other main recommendations of the committee and receipt of the Law Commission's Report on the Matrimonial Jurisdiction of Magistrates' Courts.

Mr. Watkinson

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he accept that there is now a complete dichotomy between the operation of the divorce courts and the magistrates' courts? As a result of the 1969 Divorce Reform Act the concept of the matrimonial offence has been taken out of the divorce court but remains in the magistrates' courts. Should not this distinction be done away with at the earliest possible opportunity?

The Attorney-General

These matters need a great deal of consideration, particularly as the question of which courts should deal with these matters is linked with questions of substantive law on which the Finer Committee made recommendations. These must all be considered together before the Government are in a position to come to final conclusions about the matter.

Mrs. Hayman

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of the problems experienced by one-parent families stem from the differences in jurisdiction pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson)? For five years the Finer Committee was considering these matters, long after family courts had been recommended throughout the country. My recollection is that in our manifesto we are committed to the concept of family courts, and many of us were very disappointed that it was not included in the Gracious Speech. We hope that we shall see it soon.

The Attorney-General

I take note of the latter part of my hon. Friend's question. What appears in the Queen's Speech is not a matter for me. It is a matter for my right hon. Friends who are members of the Cabinet, which I am not. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Finer Report contained a number of proposals about the substantive law relating to maintenance and so on. Other bodies, such as the Law Commission, are considering these matters, and it would be wrong to adopt a proposal on the courts without having first come to conclusions about the substantive law. I hope that the delay will not be too great before effect is given to the proposals.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman elucidate his reference to the Queen's Speech? Is he enunciating a new and unorthodox doctrine of the collective constitutional responsibility of Ministers? Is he suggesting that those Ministers who are not in the Cabinet bear any less degree of responsibility for the contents, be they good or bad, of the Queen's Speech?

The Attorney-General

No, Sir, I was not enunciating a new principle. What I was saying—I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his genius for understanding, understood me—was that I did not draft the Queen's Speech. Therefore, I was not responsible for any ommissions from it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am responsible, as a member of the Government, for what it contained.

Mr. Cormack

Will the Attorney-General now say whether it is his party's policy to introduce family courts?

The Attorney-General

Of course, it is the Government's policy. The question is whether it be this year, next year or when the Government are in a position to come to a conclusion as to the manner in which the Finer Committee's recommendations will be given effect. Having regard to all the other matters, I can say that it is unlikely to be this year.

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