HC Deb 01 December 1986 vol 106 cc622-3
51. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

asked the Attorney-General when he expects to make an announcement on the outcome of the Lord Chancellor's consultation document on family courts.

54. Mr. Maclennan

asked the Attorney-General how many responses he has received to the "Interdepartmental Review of Family and Domestic Jurisdiction" paper.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The responses to the consultation paper, which was published by the Lord Chancellor's Department on 13 May, were due by 31 October. One hundred and seventy four have been received and, as one would expect in an exercise of this nature, different views have been expressed on the whole range of issues canvassed in the consultation paper. The Government will make an announcement as soon as possible when the responses have been analysed and the resource implications of the main options for a family court have been assessed.

Mrs. Bottomley

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is high time that we had action rather than words on family courts? We need an integrated, coherent and accessible system of family courts. More than 160,000 children a year are involved in divorce cases, and there are 20 different ways of going into local authority care. It is, therefore, time for action. Without jeopardising my overwhelming case, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend has had time to consider the situation in Australia, where progress has already been made towards a federal family court system?

The Solicitor-General

As to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, we think of little else. With regard to the former part, in fairness to the Lord Chancellor I should remind my hon. Friend that the consultation paper was issued only in May this year and that the consultation period finished only on 31 October. There is much criticism of the present system, but there needs to be a proper analysis.

Mr. Maclennan

Has the Solicitor-General looked at the representations from the Social Democratic Lawyers Association? Has he noticed that, with reasonable economy, it has advocated a system of family courts which enables child care cases to be more sensitively handled than they can be at present and also allows couples to seek to settle their differences without full adversarial proceedings in court?

The Solicitor-General

The Social Democratic Lawyers Association has achieved immortality by being referred to in this report. Its recommendations will, of course, receive the same serious consideration as all the others.

Mr. Sims

My right hon. and learned Friend has suggested that there are different views on the form that family courts should take. Will he assure us that those views will not be taken as an excuse for inaction? I commend to him the initiative of the family courts campaign, which has sought some consensus.

As there has been general consultation, is it not appropriate for the House to have an opportunity to debate the proposals, and will he put that suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House?

The Solicitor-General

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware of that suggestion. A variety of options are available and they were set out in chapter 8 of this report. Most people would agree that there are defects in the present [Interruption.] I do not wish to take up unnecessary time. Most people agree that there are many criticisms to be made of the present system, but there is less agreement on what is a desirable alternative.