HC Deb 23 April 1975 vol 890 cc1475-7
34. Mr. Sproat

asked the Lord Advocate what discussions he has had with the Law Society about the reform of Scottish divorce law.

The Lord Advocate

Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the Minister primarily responsible for divorce legislation, has had any formal discussions with the Law Society of Scotland about divorce law reform.

Mr. Sproat

Is it not a fact that the Law Society has recommended most strongly that Scottish divorce law should be reformed and brought into harmony with English divorce law? Does the Lord Advocate accept this recommendation, and has he had any indication from the Leader of the House that he will provide Government time to debate this matter? If not, how can he explain to the Law Society and other bodies in Scotland that the Government can provide time to debate hare coursing but will not provide time to discuss a matter which is so important to the happiness or misery of so many people in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

I agree that the Law Society of Scotland is on record as being strongly in favour of divorce law reform in Scotland. I have made no secret of my commitment to the same objective. There are many competing claims for the parliamentary time available, and it is necessary to strike an appropriate balance, having regard to the strong feelings held by different people about different matters of law reform. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he voted against the divorce law reform proposal advanced by one of my hon. Friends in, I think, 1971.

Mr. McElhone

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the latest figures show that one marriage in five in Scotland is ending in divorce, and that the Government should put as much emphasis on the preservation of marriages and the stability of family life as on divorce reform?

The Lord Advocate

I accept what my hon. Friend has said, but equally, in fairness, he will accept that there is a strong feeling in Scotland that divorce based on fault is a dated concept, and that it is time that the concept of breakdown was introduced.

Mr. Steel

Has the Lord Advocate considered with the Law Society the possibility of introducing legislation in another place as a means of getting it started?

The Lord Advocate

The Government constantly have that possibility in mind in this field as in any other.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that not only the Law Society of Scotland but the Scottish Law Commission, the Association of Scottish Law Agents and the Muir Society have indicated their support for reform? Does my right hon. and learned Friend know of any legal organisation in Scotland which does not support divorce law reform? Does he recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) assured the House on 26th March that discussions were taking place on the need for reform? Unfortunately, those discussions were brought to an end two hours after my hon. Friend sat down. Was my right hon. and learned Friend involved in those discussions and, if so, what advice did he offer?

The Lord Advocate

My hon. Friend must know that there are some questions which Ministers do not answer at Question Time. However, on his main point about the attitude of reform bodies in Scotland, so far as I know most of the major law bodies in Scotland are, broadly speaking, in favour of divorce law reform, but I have the impression that a number of bodies are not altogether committed to the proposal which my hon. Friend has put forward in his Bill.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the Lord Advocate accept that if a change in the divorce law is necessary it should be made on the merits of the case, and that the question whether or not Scottish law is in or out of harmony with English law is totally irrelevant?

The Lord Advocate

I gladly agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, but I do not agree with the second part.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does the Lord Advocate realises that a question of principle is involved in the provision of Government time on the Floor of the House for private Members' legislation? Will he answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)? Do the Government attach higher priority to giving time on the Floor of the House to discussing hare coursing than to reform of the divorce laws?

The Lord Advocate

That inference can be drawn. Which matters are to be given priority is a matter for balance and judgment.

Mr. Buchan

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that there is another vehicle in the House for legislation? I hope he will urge the Government to send the question of divorce law reform to the Scottish Grand Committee, so that Scottish Members may decide. I hope that he will persuade the Leader of the Scottish National Party not to object to that, and the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland not to encourage his Members to object either, as happened on the last occasion.

The Lord Advocate

I take note of what my hon. Friend said and I hope that others in the House will do likewise.

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