HC Deb 13 June 1984 vol 61 cc1042-5

Amendments made: No. 52, in page 44, leave out lines 4 and 5.

No. 54, in page 44, line 31, at end insert—

'1984 c. 00 County Courts Act 1984 In section 147(1), the definition of "matrimonial cause".'.

—[The Solicitor-General.]

1.37 am
The Attorney-General

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Last autumn the New Law Journal, in a leading article, published the following passage The myths and the exaggerations are already forming around the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill and need to be dispelled. The reality is that the Bill is not an assault on the family or the institution of marriage. It does not presage the return of fault-based divorce, nor would its enactment create a new class of destitute jobless first wives on the breadline while their husbands' second families live in luxury. Indeed the practical effect of the new measure, when implemented, is likely to disappoint, or alternatively assuage the fears of those who expect it to introduce dramatic changes in the way the courts deal with the financial aftermath of divorce. The Bill brings together proposals of three Law Commission and one Scottish Law Commission reports, and adds a dash of procedure inspired by the Lord Chancellor's Department, not least to attempt to unravel the jurisdictional problems that Richards v.Richards revealed. I hope that the careful consideration that has been given to the Bill in the other place, in Committee and in the House has dispelled those myths.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have played such a major part in our consideration of the Bill. Their work has been rewarded in the amendments made to the Bill. The debates in the House and in the other place greatly improved the measure, which will soon receive Royal Assent.

I also wish to comment on the use of the Special Standing Committee procedure. This power is rarely used, but its use in connection with this Bill was obviously enormously valuable to the Committee and to all those who read its proceedings. Not only did it enable the Committee to be better informed so that it could carry out its responsibilities, but I have no doubt that it speeded debates in Committee.

I also pay tribute to the Opposition for the responsible way in which they have dealt with this non-partisan measure. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on the skilful, compassionate and courteous way in which he navigated the Bill through the minefields that are always creatd by legislation that involves reforms.

I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.

1.40 am
Mr. John Morris

Initially, the Bill caused great concern in many parts of the House. Some women believed that they were hard done by, and some men had exaggerated hopes of what they could gain from it. Many of those fears were removed by sending the Bill to the Special Standing Committee. When the idea of doing so was canvassed, it was welcomed by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and we greatly appreciated the help of the Solicitor-General in Committee and in all our proceedings. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Richardson) and my other hon. Friends who bore the heat of the day in Committee; they left no stone unturned.

The Opposition had a free vote on the Bill on Second Reading, as they will have on Third Reading. The concrete way to allay the fears which I believe still exist is for the Bill to be monitored during the next five years. If it fails, and some of those fears are proved right, it will inevitably be necessary to amend the Act at that stage.

1.42 am
Mr. Alex Carlile

The alliance has the greatest misgivings about the Bill, not so much for what it does, as for what it fails to do. We believe that it is wrong for matrimonial law, which is so greatly in need of wholesale reform—matrimonial procedure especially needs almost complete revision—to be dealt with in this piecemeal way. It was suggested earlier in the debate that, in one respect at least, there was no time to consider the issues properly, but the fact is that many of the issues which lead one to the conclusion that matrimonial law is desperately in need of wide reform have been debated for many years and researched fully.

On Second Reading I referred to the report of the Finer commission, which was published 10 years ago, recommending fundamental changes in family law and, above all, making the strong and cogent point that it is time to look outside the adversarial procedure that has been traditional in family law proceedings, and try to aim at something new and different that is designed to introduce conciliation as the first consideration in disputes — conciliation, not reconciliation.

The time is long overdue for a system of family courts to be set up, combining the whole family law and domestic jurisdiction. It could and should have been done by this Bill. In that respect the Government have failed in the Bill.

1.45 am
Mr. Abse

I shall take greater care to try to keep within the limits of what should be a Third Reading speech; I observed that you were getting restless, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I cannot refrain from saying that the very features of the Bill highlight areas which require attention. It is abundantly clear that one of the best effects of the Bill is that it has directed attention to the fact that we are dealing with problems that need new conciliation procedures, family courts and a real regard to the large mass of women who will not be affected in any way by the Bill because they are still dependent upon inadequate state security.

For my part, I believe that on balance the Bill is of limited benefit in so far as it substitutes new guidelines for those who have to adjudicate upon requests for financial aid, following upon divorce. It substitutes rational guidelines for irrational guidelines.

Inevitably we have had a great deal of tumult during our debates. It would have been wrong if even to the end there had not been some quite fierce exchanges. The Solicitor-General will realise that it is the duty of an Opposition, particularly when they are comparatively small in numbers, to alert the nation as best they can to what they regard as blemishes within a Bill.

I wish to thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House who, through the unofficial divorce committee of the House, so persistently asked for part II. I am grateful for the fact that at the very end we had the Lord Chancellor, with all the zeal of a proselyte, pursuing partII and having as his aide the Solicitor-General, to whom I give special thanks for the courtesy, constant vigilance and care that he gave to every amendment, even those which were most extravagant or irrational.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 119, Noes 16.

Division No. 370] [1.48am
Abse, Leo Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Alexander, Richard Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Ashby, David Key, Robert
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) King, Roger (B'ham N field)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Baldry, Anthony Knowles, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Lang, Ian
Bellingham, Henry Lawler, Geoffrey
Benyon, William Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Berry, Sir Anthony Lilley, Peter
Best, Keith Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Bevan, David Gilroy Lyell, Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Maclean, David John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Major, John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Malins, Humfrey
Brinton, Tim Mather, Carol
Brooke, Hon Peter Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Moynihan, Hon C.
Bruinvels, Peter Norris, Steven
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Oppenheim, Philip
Cash, William Ottaway, Richard
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Chope, Christopher Powley, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Raffan, Keith
Conway, Derek Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Coombs, Simon Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Cope, John Rowe, Andrew
Couchman, James Sackville, Hon Thomas
Cranborne, Viscount Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Currie, Mrs Edwina Sayeed, Jonathan
Dorrell, Stephen Shelton, William (Streatham)
Dover, Den Soames, Hon Nicholas
Durant, Tony Spencer, Derek
Fallon, Michael Stern, Michael
Favell, Anthony Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Fox, Marcus Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Franks, Cecil Sumberg, David
Freeman, Roger Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Gale, Roger Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Galley, Roy Thurnham, Peter
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Tracey, Richard
Garel-Jones, Tristan Twinn, Dr Ian
Goodlad, Alastair van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Gow, Ian Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ground, Patrick Walden, George
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Waller, Gary
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Hawksley, Warren Watson, John
Hayward, Robert Watts, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Whitfield, John
Hind, Kenneth Whitney, Raymond
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Wolfson, Mark
Holt, Richard Wood, Timothy
Hooson, Tom Yeo, Tim
Howard, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Mr. Michael Neubert and Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Hunter, Andrew
Jessel, Toby
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harman, Ms Harriet
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Richardson, Ms Jo
Kirkwood, Archy Skinner, Dennis
Madden, Max Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Meadowcroft, Michael
Mikardo, Ian Tellers for the Noes:
Nellist, David Mr. Tony Blair and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Pike, Peter

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

  2. c1045