HC Deb 14 March 1988 vol 129 cc850-2
47. Mr. Sims

To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a further statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the establishment of family courts, in the light of the statement by the Lord Chancellor in the February issue of "Family Law".

The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

The Lord Chancellor endorsed the strength of the arguments for both a unified legal framework for child and family law and for a unified court structure. The latter is dependent on the former, upon which officials from a number of Departments are actively engaged.

Mr. Sims

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that reply, but, alas, it does not really get us much further. Is he aware that many individuals and organisations went to a great deal of trouble to respond to the Government's consultative document on family courts? Also, our noble and learned Friend Lord Havers seemed to demonstrate some sympathy for the idea of family courts. Indeed, from time to time, my hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General have said that work is proceeding on proposals for family courts. The tone of the present Lord Chancellor's statement suggests that he is now looking for all sorts of reasons not to proceed with the family court. Will my hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to clear up the situation and make a statement, so that we know exactly where we stand? If he could do that in a debate that he could persuade our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to hold on the subject, so much the better.

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend should take heart. We must seek to deal in a rational, comprehensive and integral way with child law, both public and private, including harmonisation of the available remedies and reform of court procedures. That objective is necessary in itself and will provide an essential foundation for any reform of court structures. We must get the law right first and then look at court structures.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Solicitor-General accept that the long delays over the past 16 years since the Finer recommendation are a sad commentary on the prospects for achieving legal reform of any sort in this country? Will he now get some steam behind his proposal, as hardly any serious legal body is opposed to it?

The Solicitor-General

It is not steam that is needed, but a bit of clear thinking. Child care law and family law are in a great muddle, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We intend to get child care and family law right. We shall then have set the legal framework against which to provide the court framework, if that seems appropriate.

Mr. Lawrence

May we take it that the article that was written by the Lord Chancellor does not demonstrate that the Government's real thinking is that too much else on the statute hook needs to be done before there is a reform of family law? As it is agreed by hon. Members of all parties that speedy action should be taken along the lines that my hon. and learned Friend has stated, does he agree that we should not have to keep coming back year after year asking the same questions on this important subject?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. and learned Friend has seen and made the point. Child care law is receiving high priority.

Mr. Fraser

In a somewhat unusual — although welcome—article in "Family Law", the Lord Chancellor appears to be saying that he believes that the present system is unduly complicated and that he would welcome reform, but is he also saying that he rejects reform because it is too complicated, or that the reform is rejected by other colleagues in the Cabinet because of other business? What is the answer?

The Solicitor-General

The Lord Chancellor is not saying either of those things. He is saying that reform in the form of clarification and harmonisation of the many different strands of child law is badly needed and that we should get on with it, and that is what he proposes to do.

Mr. Hind

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the widespread support for family courts among hon. Members of all parties, and, bearing in mind that there is good will for reforming child law, will he exert pressure on the business managers of the House to bring in what many others feel is a long-overdue reform that will receive widespread support?

The Solicitor-General

Again, my hon. Friend should take heart. We intend to get child care law right. As he knows, it is a large and complex subject that needs to be tackled. Once that has been dealt with, we can move on to the concomitant of the actual court structure, if that seems appropriate. The concept of a family court embodies getting right both the law and the court structure.