HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1807-10
39. Mr. Sproat

asked the Lord Advocate what recent representations he has received about the reform of divorce laws in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate

None, Sir.

Mr. Sproat

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a widespread and growing bitterness in Scotland about the way that this House is handling this matter, which affects the happiness of thousands? Is this question not far too important to be left to the hit or miss methods of private Members' legislation? As plenty of time exists in the House, if the will exists in the House, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman urge his right hon. Friend to see that in the next Session of Parliament the Government provide time for the introduction of Government legislation to prosecute this report?

The Lord Advocate

This matter was dealt with by my right hon. Friend in reply to the first Question on the Order Paper today. There is nothing much that I can add to that. The hon. Member has highlighted the concern that exists for divorce law reform, and I share this concern, as he knows. But we must consider the other side of the picture, as given in the reply which my right hon. Friend made in writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). As he made clear in that reply, Governments—the hon. Gentleman's Government and the Government now in office—have taken the view—wisely, and taking account of all the considerations involved—that in this field the appropriate way to proceed is by private Members' legislation.

Mr. William Hamilton

Why is that so, when the Government can give time for the Hare Coursing Bill, and here is an issue that cuts across every party in the House? As all responsible bodies in Scotland want to harmonise the law of Scotland with that of England, will the Lord Advocate now give an assurance about this matter, or will his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talk to the Leader of the House with a view to giving time? It is simply not good enough to leave it to the whims and chance of the Ballot for Private Members' Bills.

The Lord Advocate

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Leader of the House, and, of course, it is his responsibility to concern himself with the time available for legislation. It is not my responsibility. But I ought to repeat what I sought to say when answering an earlier question. I very much appreciate the concern and anxiety for reform in divorce law, but it would be quite wrong for people who express that concern not to recognise the strong moral feelings that exist on the other side of this issue.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Lord Advocate aware of the growing practice of people in my constituency being advised to seek residence just over the border and commute to work in order to be able to avail themselves of the facility of the divorce law of England? Is that not bringing the law of Scotland into disrepute? If a private Member introduces a Bill early in the Session, what is to stop the Government's referring it to the Scottish Grand Committee for Second Reading?

The Lord Advocate

I am aware of that anomaly. No doubt others will take note of the second point the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the Lord Advocate consider the law relating to marriage and the family an important branch of the law? If he does, why does he appear to favour changes in that law without any explanation to this House of the principles involved in the changes? Will he now withdraw the unworthy allegations of obstruction which on 9th July he directed against those of us who believe that it is utterly wrong that legislative changes of this nature should go through the House without one word of debate on Second Reading? Is that really what, as Lord Advocate, he believes in?

The Lord Advocate

Now that the hon. Gentleman has finished his pyrotechnics, I should say that I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman, in his own mind, is not being obstructive in this matter. I think that, as he sees it, he is seeking merely to have a proper Second Reading debate about the merits of this cause. That is the point he makes. Whether that is a matter of substance I leave to those who read Hansard and I hope that the reading of Hansard will include the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the Committee stage of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) in a previous Parliament, when I think the hon. Member made many excellent Second Reading speeches.