HC Deb 18 June 1976 vol 913 cc972-5
The Lord Advocate

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 7, leave out from 'divorce,' to; and' in line 9 and insert: 'if it appears to the court that there is a reasonable prospect of a reconciliation between the parties, it shall continue, or further continue, the action for such period as it thinks proper to enable attempts to be made to effect such a reconciliation'. This amendment is in response to an undertaking I gave in Committee to strengthen the provisions for reconciliation in Clause 2. I hope that it will commend itself to hon. Members who were anxious that the reconciliation proposals should be effective. There is a genuine hope that when the amendment is added to the Bill it will strengthen it in a manner that will go at least part of the way to meeting the anxieties expressed by hon. Members. In view of the amendment to which we have just agreed, to restore the word "irretrievable", perhaps post mortem or after the fact, I could point out that this amendment gives a degree of meaning to the word "irretrievable" which was not in the Bill before.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) on his good fortune in the Ballot which has enabled him to introduce the Bill. In all frankness, I must say that I was an opponent of previous Bills of the same kind and my opposition to this Bill is no less because it has been introduced by my hon. Friend.

I support the amendment because it seems to offer some kind of stay of execution in the annulment or cancellation of a marriage. It has been argued, before the Bill was presented, that Scottish divorce law was out of step with English divorce law. Quite a number of hon. Members made that point to me. They did not think it necessary to add that English divorce law was superior. It was an affront to them that Scottish law should be different from English law.

I do not accept that. Scottish law is certainly different, but as the Solicitor-General for Scotland pointed out recently. Scottish divorce law has never been the same as English law on divorce since the Reformation.

There are two clauses in the Bill to which I take exception. The first is Clause 1(2)(b), where the—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said that I would call hon. Members to offer congratulations. I shall not allow a Third Reading debate on this amendment. I am prepared to permit only congratulations.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Stewart

I was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill and have had no opportunity of making my case. I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fault with the Bill is that it regards marriage as a private contract. Marriage must be looked at from the point of view of society as a whole. For that reason I shall be voting against the Bill on Third Reading.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House. I should like to take this opportunity to express my congratulations, and the congratulations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and of my hon. Friends, to the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormack) on piloting the Bill through its Committee stage. I think he will agree that it was not a difficult Committee. The Committee had the great good fortune to be made up of lawyers on the one hand and those of us who brought common sense to the matter on the other hand.

As the Bill leaves the House and goes on its way to another place, my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen. North (Mr. Hughes), Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), all of whom have been involved in previous attempts to achieve what the hon. Member has achieved, would particularly wish to be associated with my congratulations and good wishes. I am sure that many people in Scotland, recognising the need for a reform of the divorce laws, will be grateful to the hon. Member and pleased to know that this measure is nearly on the statute book.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think I shall have to extend my period of deafness. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) misunderstood what I was saying. I thought that he intended to offer congratulations. As a matter of fact, I was about to ask him when the congratulations were coming. That was the sole purpose of allowing him to take part in the debate. He may have misunderstood me and I may have misunderstood him. I shall have to be deaf, for another minute, to the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid).

Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Representing the more radical wing of my party, may I take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr MacCormick) on getting the Bill through the House? He will have taken on board the fact that we have not pressed amendments that we tabled in Committee to the effect that there should be a concurrent jurisdiction in certain designated sheriff courts. My hon. Friend will recognise that we have not pressed those amendments because we accepted his point that had we done so the Bill as a whole might have been jeopardised.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and I hope that on some future occasion the House may return to consider the amendments relating to the sheriff courts in a new Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 7, in page 3, line 21, after 'The' insert 'irretrievable'.

No. 8, in Clause 4, in page 4, line 9, after 'to', insert "irretrievable'.—[Mr. MacCormick.]

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading).

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. IAIN MACCORMICK and Mr. GEORGE REID were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, and Mr. DONALD STEWART was appointed a Teller for the Noes, but no Member being willing to act as a second Teller for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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