HL Deb 27 June 1957 vol 204 cc435-52

2.58 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It is exactly 100 years ago since divorce was handed over to the jurisdiction of the civil courts, and in that century there has been a good deal of change in the law and practice relating to nullity and dissolution of marriage. Coming immediately to modern times, we all remember the admirable Report of the Royal Commission. In that Report there were some non-controversial recommendations, and one of them relates to the jurisdiction in connection with the various matters which are dealt with by this Bill. I ought to say that this Bill is based upon those recommendations, but does not follow them precisely in every detail. In order to allay any possible fears, I would point out that the Bill does not create any new grounds for divorce, nor does it extend any existing grounds for divorce. In non-technical language, the main object of the Bill is to help the limping marriage. In some cases people are regarded as divorced in one country and as married in another. That is hardly a state of affairs which is satisfactory, either in morals or in law.

Coming to the Bill itself, I would say that Clause 1 deals with the instances where an English court may hear a divorce petition. At present a petition for divorce may be presented where the parties are domiciled in England. Since husband and wife are in this respect considered as one, the domicile of a husband and a wife is always the same. To alleviate this hardship two concessions are made by Section 18 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950. In one of these cases, after three years' residence in England a wife may present a petition. The present Bill widens the jurisdiction so as to confer power on the courts to hear petitions if both parties are resident in this country, but only to grant a decree if the personal—that is to say, the domestic—law governing the parties has power to grant a decree. Let me give your Lordships an example. If A and B are Italians residing but not domiciled in England, the English court will be able, under the Bill, to hear the petition; but since Italy has no divorce laws, no decree can be granted in England. This is the effect of the proviso to paragraphs (c) and (d) of Clause 1 of the Bill.

I wish to emphasise the fact that this Bill expressly avoids allowing this country to be a dumping ground for broken marriages which cannot be validly dissolved elsewhere. Let me give your Lordships a positive example of the operation of Clause 1. H and W are Ruritanians—may I say that Ruritania is an imaginary country—living in England. The marriage breaks up, and the wife seeks to get a divorce in England. The court will have jurisdiction under Clause 1, but the proviso to that clause states that the court will give her a divorce only if by Ruritanian law—that is, her personal law—a Ruritanian court has power to grant a decree for cruelty, desertion, adultery, and so forth. To put the matter in a nutshell, the idea of the Bill is to transpose, as it were, the Ruritanian court to England, in order to make it unnecessary for the wife to go to the expense of proceeding in Ruritania.

Clause 2 deals with the dissolution of a marriage where a spouse is presumed to be dead. I respectfully submit that no possible harm can be done by substituting residence for domicile as the basis of jurisdiction in this rather rare type of case. Clause 3 of the Bill deals with nullity, and merely states the existing Common Law position. Clause 4, in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), deals with voidable marriages. These are mostly concerned with the ground of wilful refusal to consummate a marriage. It states the Common Law position with slight modifications in paragraph (b). It is comparable to Clause 1 (c) of the Bill. Paragraph (d) of Clause 4 of the Bill is new, but there is reason to believe that this is not entirely unacceptable. In fact, in 1955 there was a decision of the High Court in Northern Ireland which supported the principle. That paragraph provides, in effect, that a petition for the annulment of a marriage alleged to be voidable may be presented to the court where the marriage was celebrated in England.

Clause 5 of the Bill gives a new remedy. At present, the principle of law is that there is unity of domicile as between husband and wife. That is effected by the wife taking the same domicile as the husband. I appreciate the fact that this is one of the fundamental principles of our law, and anybody who tries to change a fundamental principle is in the same position as the man who spoke disrespectfully of the Equator—I never knew what happened to him, but I am quite sure he was never seen again. At all events, I have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and the Bill provides that for the limited purpose of jurisdiction in divorce and nullity a wife can have a separate domicile. She is to have a separate domicile if, but for the fact, she would be domiciled in England.

To take an example, Mrs. Jones is married to a Utopian, and they live and become domiciled in Utopia. I may tell your Lordships that Utopia is a country which one has never seen but of which one has only heard. Subsequently they part, and Mrs. Jones returns to England to her family, intending never to go back to Utopia. As the law stands at present she remains, during her husband's lifetime, domiciled in Utopia, and if Utopia has no divorce she cannot, by virtue of her residence, take the benefit of Clause 1, paragraphs (c) and (d), of the Bill, because only one of the parties is resident here, unless, of course, the parties last resided together in England. This provision of the Bill will, in effect, take the place of the existing three years' ordinary residence rule which is to be found in Section 18 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1950. The Utopian wife can thus establish the jurisdiction of the English court under Clause 1 (a) of the Bill and obtain a decree on grounds allowable under English law, irrespective of what Utopia might say.

Part II of the Bill is, so to speak, the reverse side of the picture. If Mrs. Jones obtains a divorce in Utopia, is she a divorced woman according to English law? Until 1953 an English court would only recognise a foreign decree if, at the time of the petition, that foreign court had jurisdiction in the eyes of English law—that is to say, it was necessary that the parties should be domiciled in Utopia at the time of the petition. However, an extension of that principle was provided by the Court of Appeal in 1953 in the case of Travers v. Holley, which stated that if an English court took jurisdiction on the basis that immediately before the husband deserted the wife he was domiciled in England, the English courts would recognise a decree of a foreign court, where the foreign court took jurisdiction for substantially the same reasons.

Part II of the Bill sets out the identical terms of Part I, except that Part II deals with the situation of a foreign court which pronounces a decree on the same, or substantially similar, grounds as an English court. If it has done so, then the decree of the foreign court will be recognised in this country. Clause 10 of the Bill deals with the type of extra-judicial divorce, usually religious, as a decree by the Mohammedan Talak-nama or the Jewish Ghet. Clause 10 seeks to enact the Common Law position. The English court is to recognise such a divorce, but not if the marriage was celebrated in England.

In conclusion, I will say only this. It is not for me to say what the courts of the country feel or do not feel about a certain matter, but, reading the cases, one has the suspicion that the courts are frequently embarrassed in not being able to grant a decree on account of various technical obstructions. There is the difference between "void" and "voidable". There are cases where domicile is the basis of jurisdiction, and cases where residence is the basis of jurisdiction. There is endless ground for argument and the spending of money—which, of course, is a good thing, except for the unfortunate public. I am not suggesting for a moment that this Bill deals with a matter of the highest importance. But it does try to clear up the complicated position which exists to-day in the lives of an appreciable number of unhappy people. With that modest view of the matter, I beg to recommend it to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Meston.)

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, as I am likely to become somewhat deeply involved in the problems raised by this Bill, I think I ought to say a word or two about it. I should like to begin by expressing my admiration for the full and scholarly way in which the Royal Commission dealt with this rather thorny and difficult problem. If rumour speaks truly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Avonholm, had as much to do with it as anybody. I should also like to express my admiration for the courage of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, in tackling this matter and introducing this Bill.

As has been said already, the Bill mainly follows the code which the Royal Commission set out as a synopsis of their recommendations. But the code itself was simply intended as what might be called the skeleton framework for a Bill, and I am very strongly advised that a good deal more elaboration and draftsmanship would be required before this Bill could be really made workable. I am particularly anxious not to appear in any way to be indulging in captious criticism and, if I call attention in the Bill to one or two omissions or departures from the code set out in the Report, it will only be by way of leading up to what I hope may be a constructive suggestion.

The first one to which I want to call attention is this. In Clause 1 of the Bill there is a proviso with regard to divorce in cases where the jurisdiction is, to put it shortly, founded merely on residence, and the qualification is that the personal rights of the spouses would give them similar rights in their own law. That is, quite bluntly, expressly intended by the Commission to be repeated in connection with nullity suits as well as with divorce, but that repetition does not appear on the face of the Bill.

Then Clause 3 (3) deals with cases of nullity otherwise than because of lack of formality—that is, cases of nullity where there is some serious defect. It is declared in the Commission's code that the marriage shall be declared null and void if it is invalid by the personal law of one or other of the parties. In other words, if either of them has a personal law which will not bring what is wanted, the decree cannot be pronounced; but to that there is a most important exception in the proviso. It is that a marriage which was celebrated elsewhere than in England or Scotland shall not be declared void if it is valid according to the law of the country in which the parties intended…to make their matrimonial home, and such intention has…been carried out. That would obviously be a very important extension of the jurisdiction, and one which would help a great many people; yet it is omitted from the Bill. I ought to say that the reason for that particular extension is fully set out in a series of clauses in the Report, which are, I think, numbered 886 to 891.

Finally, with regard to a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, specifically mentioned, the acquisition by a separated wife of a separate domicile, there is the proviso that, if she had been a single woman, the courts would have been likely to hold that she had an English domicile. That, again, has been omitted from the Bill. Those, so far as for the moment it is necessary to go, are all the omissions. On the other side, there are one or two points which have been added in the Bill and for which I can find no warranty in the Report. One is in Clause 4 (d), where jurisdiction in nullity is given solely on the ground that the marriage was celebrated in England. I know that there has been some judicial controversy about this question in times past, but, so far as I can see, this provision is completely outside any recommendation which the Royal Commission made. Another addition which I confess I cannot understand is in Clause 10, that, where the court is enjoined to recognise as valid any grounds of divorce which are recognised by the personal law of the parties, an exception is made in the case of a marriage celebrated in England. As I say, I am not pointing out these matters merely from the point of view of captious criticism, but to lead to the suggestion that it is essential that the Bill should be redrafted, as I think, from top to toe.

There is one other notable respect in which this Bill departs from the recommendations, and certainly from the inten- tions, of the Royal Commission. In Clause 12 (3) it is laid down that: This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. If there is one thing that is plain on the face of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, it is that their avowed object is to diminish and not to increase what the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has called "limping marriages", where a party is divorced in one country and is left married in the other. One prolific source of "limping marriages" is the traditional conflict between the strict application of the law of domicile, in its most rigid form, on which this country, with certain statutory exceptions to which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred, has insisted during the whole of the last hundred years.

On the other hand, there is the conception elsewhere that a divorce depends either on nationality or on residence, or on both. If the object is to try to produce some sort of uniformity over the world at large, surely, at any rate, the United Kingdom should be united in itself. I cannot imagine any way to create greater confusion than to pass separate legislation with regard to England, leaving Scotland and Northern Ireland out of it. Here, I am certainly not going to trespass on the peculiar jurisdiction and knowledge of my noble and learned friend Lord Keith of Avonholm, but I do not think that this particular defect would be remedied merely by taking the word "not" out of Clause 12 (3) and saying that the Bill "shall apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland." After all, in Scotland they have their own legal terminology, and I am quite confident that any draftsman would say that it would be necessary to have regard to that in covering the application of this Bill to Scotland.

The suggestion I should like to make about this Bill is this. I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading—it certainly will have my voice. But having given some illustrations of the necessity for redrafting the whole Bill, I think that if the Lord Chancellor could arrange to place at the disposal of the promoter of the Bill the Parliamentary draftsman, with a view to complete redrafting de novo of a comprehensive Bill; and if the noble Lord, Lord Meston, when the time comes, would withdraw the present Bill, although it has obtained a Second Reading, and substitute the revised Bill, say in the next Session, the most desirable end which we all want would be attained in the simplest and best way.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I personally welcome this Bill, first of all, as a constructive attempt, and I think for the first time, to secure by legislation a greater comity among nations in the recognition of divorces and annulments of marriage; and secondly, because it recognises important work done in this field by the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. As has been said by both noble Lords who have spoken, there are too many limping marriages in the world to-day—cases where people are regarded as married or divorced id one country and as not married or not divorced in another. Even as between England and Scotland to-day, as the law stands it is possible, where the wife in a marriage has been resident in England and has secured a divorce in England, for that divorce to be not recognised in Scotland. Accordingly, one finds a couple divorced in England, who will not be regarded as divorced in Scotland.

This is a quite ridiculous position, but it is a position which can arise, as I see it, as the law stands to-day in Scotland; although perhaps the reverse would not apply if a divorce was obtained in Scotland in similar circumstances, and the question whether it was a valid divorce in England came to be considered. I think in England the English courts would probably say that it was a good divorce, but I am not at all satisfied that the reverse position holds in Scotland. Then again, a French woman who has resided in England for three years may obtain a divorce from her husband, a Frenchman, on the ground of insanity. But that divorce will not be recognised in France because France does not recognise divorce on the ground of insanity. Those are just examples of what are called "limping marriages." Many others may be adduced. I am not going to weary your Lordships by further illustrations; those are two illustrations of what may happen.

The Bill may not remove all such anomalies, but it goes a long way. Part I introduces certain rules as to when the English courts may exercise jurisdiction in the case of persons whom for the moment I will call foreigners (they may not be all foreigners; some may be English people not domiciled in England, but domiciled somewhere else) and may grant a divorce to them. But the great point about this—this is the point that was made and recommended by the Royal Commission—is that, where such a divorce is granted, regard shall be paid to the personal law of these foreigners; and divorce would not be granted by the English courts unless the law of England and the law of the person concerned would allow such a divorce to be granted. We hope that the introduction of such a basis of jurisdiction in this country would secure, or might be more likely to secure, recognition by other countries of divorces given in this country in such circumstances.

On the other hand, in Part II of the Bill a greater liberality in the recognition of divorces granted by other countries is introduced. For instance, if this Bill were to go through, the courts here would recognise divorces granted abroad on the ground or on the basis of the nationality of the parties to the divorce. As many of your Lordships know, at the present time a divorce granted abroad on the ground of nationality will not receive recognition by the courts of this country. That is one matter in regard to which Part II of the Bill introduces what, if it were to go through, would be, as I think, a valuable and important reform. For these reasons I would support the Second Reading of this Bill. I think it is sound in principle. It may be only a beginning, but it is at any rate a beginning.

I agree, however, with what my noble and learned friend, Lord Merriman, has said: that the Bill suffers from grave defects in draftsmanship and from certain omissions. In my opinion, it does not really go far enough, and if it goes to Committee I hope to see it considerably amended and improved. It certainly does not fully carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Certain points have been indicated by my noble and learned friend on that matter. One of them was with regard to Clause 3 of the Bill. Subsection (3) of that clause is as follows: If the marriage is alleged to be void on a ground other than that of lack of formalities, such issue shall be determined in accordance with the personal law or laws of the parties at the time of the marriage. In my view, that is a sound principle, but if carried out without any qualification it may lead to grave injustice.

I take the illustration of a Dane domiciled in Denmark who has married his divorced wife's sister. I will assume that the divorced wife's sister is an Englishwoman and is domiciled in England at the time of the marriage. As your Lordships are aware, under the present law it is not lawful for a man to carry through a marriage with his divorced wife's sister. But if the marriage that I am assuming were carried out in Denmark or in Paris, or probably in any other country in Europe, certainly in some cases it would be a perfectly lawful marriage; and if the parties thereafter, or at least the wife, without ever having put a foot in England again, went off to Denmark and lived and died there, the marriage would be regarded as a perfectly valid marriage. That would be the seat of the marriage and the children would be lawful children of the marriage. But if a question should arise with regard to the legitimacy of these children with a view to succession to some English estate, at the present time the English courts would have to hold that the children were illegitimate and were deprived of their succession as lawful children.

It was from that point of view that there was introduced by the Royal Commission a qualification upon this general rule which my noble and learned friend who preceded me has read but which I should like to read again. It is in paragraph 891 of the Report of the Royal Commission and is as follows:— We recommend, therefore, that where a marriage is alleged to be void on a ground other than that of lack of formalities, that issue should be determined in accordance with the personal law or laws of the parties at the time of the marriage That is what the Bill says as at present drafted. Then there follows in the Report this proviso: provided that a marriage which was celebrated elsewhere than in England or Scotland should not be declared void if it is valid according to the law of the country in which the parties intended at the time of the marriage to make their matrimonial home and such intention has in fact been carried out. That is a very important qualification upon the terms of Clause 3 (3), and is a proviso which I should certainly hope, and would strongly move, would be added to the Bill if it receives a Second Reading and goes to Committee. There is a similar omission on slightly different lines from Clause 4 of the Bill. My noble and learned friend has already referred to that, and I do not propose to go over the point again.

There are many other points of omission. I would refer, in particular, to the reference in Part II of the Bill to oversea decrees. That does not cover Scotland, but, so far as I can see, the operative parts of the Bill would cover Scotland. I entirely endorse what my noble and learned friend Lord Merriman has said: that it would be really quite absurd to have a Bill of this kind if there were not at any rate a corresponding Bill on identical lines for Scotland, or an omnibus Bill which included England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is, and can be, no difference in the principles to be applied as between these countries. There are no peculiarities of Scots law which would preclude Scotland from being brought into a code such as is envisaged in this Bill; and in my opinion it would be an absolutely essential requirement that Scotland should in some way be brought into a code such as is proposed by this Bill.

There are other clauses of the Bill which suffer from serious defects. Clause 11, for instance, is not really intelligible to me—but I pass over these matters. There are certain recommendations of the Royal Commission which have not been included—recommendations, for instance, in matters of evidence, in facilitating the admission of evidence in cases of divorce; and there is a recommendation which I think is rather important in the Lord Chancellor's Private International Law Committee which was set up and which dealt with the rules to be applied in the ascertainment of domicile. I believe that these also should be included in a Bill of this kind. I do not propose, however, to take up your Lordships' time on these matters at this stage: they can be dealt with on Committee. As at present advised, however, I should be prepared to support a Second Reading of this Bill as a Bill that is very necessary and based upon sound principles.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount gives us the view of Her Majesty's Government on this Bill I should like to add a few words in support of it and in support of what has been said by earlier speakers. Obviously the matter is one of substantial importance. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, has explained that the substantive law of divorce is in no way concerned in the terms of this Bill, but, of course, the jurisdiction which the English courts accept over petitions for divorce and nullity is often a matter of great importance, and, as a result of what I think is generally agreed as the narrow view which the English courts took when divorce was introduced in the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857, of the way in which they would found their jurisdiction, a great deal of hardship has been caused over a number of years.

The English courts had had no experience of dealing with this kind of thing because before that time divorce had to go through Parliament on the basis of a legislative enactment. Corning to handle this new problem—as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has in effect described—the English courts had to apply, in regard to all cases involving conflict of laws, the English concept of domicile which had been laid down in earlier cases of a quite different kind and which, introduced to this subject and applied in the rather rigid way in which it has been applied over the last century, has undoubtedly led to great hardship, as I believe everybody agrees.

That appeared clearly from the evidence given before the Royal Commission, and as a result the Royal Commission made these definite proposals—proposals directed to bringing the English procedure in regard to divorce and nullity cases more into line with that which has been followed in almost all other civilised countries; and the object of this Bill, which is a very important one, is really to bring our procedural system into line with that of other countries. It seems to me and to many other people that it is high time that this was done, and I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will be able to say that they recommend your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. At the same time, however, I find myself very thoroughly in support of what has been said by the noble and learned Lords, the President of the Divorce Court and Lord Keith of Avonholm, who have given so much thought to this matter.

There are parts of this Bill which I, as (I hope) an ordinarily competent lawyer, find it exceedingly difficult to understand. Clause 10, which has been referred to, seems to me to be doing not what it was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, it should do—dealing with Mohammedan and Jewish marriages—but going far beyond that so as to cancel out what is provided in an earlier part of the Bill; and similar criticisms which have been advanced by noble and learned Lords seem full of weight. It would be a pity if this really important topic were not handled by an expert draftsman. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, himself referred to the fact that on a number of points in the Bill he himself felt that the draftsmanship was far from satisfactory. I should like to add my voice to those of the noble and learned Lords in saying that while it is to be hoped that Her Majesty's Government will accept the principle of this Bill, it is hoped at the same time that they will lend the services of one of their expert draftsmen in order that in the Committee stage the Bill may be properly handled and a very respectable piece of legislation may go on to the Statute Book.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack speaks, may I make this suggestion? I take it, subject to what he may say, that we shall give this Bill a Second Reading; but we shall not, of course, commit it to-day. I believe I am right in my recollection that it is open to the House to commit a Bill to a Select Committee. It seems to me that the matters involved in this Bill are so technical and difficult that it might be convenient not to settle it to-day but to consider that procedure in order that noble Lords who have the vast experience of the two noble and learned Lords sitting on the Cross-Benches to-day and noble Lords in a similar kind of position may have a chance of considering the Bill. Then, of course, subject to what they say, the Bill would go through in the ordinary way. I do not expect an answer now, but I thought it would not be out of place if I pointed out that it is open, even though this is a Public Bill, to adopt that particular procedure with regard to a measure so highly complicated and technical as this one.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, my first duty is to apologise to my noble friend Lord Meston for not being here for the first few sentences of his speech. I hope that he will forgive me. I had another public duty, and I got here as soon as I could. I think I heard most of what he had to say. I wish to make clear that this Bill, in the opinion of the Government, and, of course, of myself, deals with a most important problem, and I repeat the congratulations that have already been tendered to my noble friend Lord Meston for having prepared the Bill and raised the problem in your Lordships' House.

The Bill is intended to give effect with some modifications, which have been mentioned, and to which I will return, to the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce in Part XII of their Report about the problems of private international law involved in ascertaining the basis on which the courts should assume jurisdiction in matrimonial causes and in giving recognition to foreign decrees. I respectfully agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Merriman that the recommendations of the Royal Commission are set out in a most admirable and scholarly way. But there are nearly a hundred paragraphs and they require (I am sure Lord Meston will agree) most careful consideration and reconsideration before they can be put into a legislative form, though the Royal Commission were good enough to frame a draft code which appears in Appendix IV at page 394 of the Report. That is, as it is bound to be, rather a skeleton matter which, again, requires consideration before an ultimate form can be found. But that there is a problem to be dealt with is, in my view, beyond any doubt and dispute, and if I may just put it shortly to your Lordships it may be some advantage to those who want to consider it further.

So far as the basis of jurisdiction recognised by the English and Scottish courts is concerned, the old principle which in divorce cases required the petitioner to be domiciled in this country at the commencement of the proceedings has now to some extent been departed from, particularly by the alteration made in 1949 which enabled a woman ordinarily resident for three years in this country to present a petition notwithstanding that her husband was domiciled elsewhere outside the United Kingdom. While this was a beneficial provision so far as women resident in this country were concerned, objection has been taken to it on the ground that it tends to increase the number of "limping marriages"—that, as your Lordships have heard, means marriages which are recognised in one country though dissolved in another. Moreover, the fact that the Matrimonial Causes Act contains no provision for the recognition of foreign divorce decrees is another factor tending towards the creation of limping marriages, because courts in this country and in Scotland have hitherto broadly refused to recognise decrees not granted, or not recognised as valid, by the courts of the country of domicile. I agree with Lord Meston as to the importance of the Travers v. Holley case. The Scottish courts have not, so far as I am aware, taken a similar view.

May I put it this way—I apologise to my noble and learned friend Lord Keith of Avonholm for summarising one hundred paragraphs in a very few words. The main effect of the Royal Commission's recommendations can be briefly summarised by saying that the Commission thought that in deciding whether or not to grant a decree the courts in this country should have greater regard to the personal law of the parties concerned, that being either the law of the country of domicile or of the country of nationality, as the case may be. It is suggested that the court should grant a decree only on grounds regarded as sufficient not only by the law of England or Scotland, but also by the parties' personal law. That is, as I understand it, what is stated in paragraphs 828 to 831 of the Report. If this were done there would be no objection to the court's assuming jurisdiction in any case in which either, first of all, the petitioner is in England at the commencement of the proceedings and the place where the parties to the marriage last resided together was England; or, secondly, the parties are both resident in England at the commencement of the proceedings. This is, in substance, the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill.

As your Lordships have heard to-day from my two noble and learned friends—and Lord Chorley, I think, agreed—while Lord Meston's Bill attempts to give effect to part of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, in so doing it raises a number of difficulties. I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Merriman, that the most important of these, perhaps, is that the Bill is limited to England, but it is clear that any alteration on the basis of the court's jurisdiction and the grounds on which foreign decrees are to be recognised should also apply to Scotland as well as to Northern Ireland. Let me hasten to say with regard to Northern Ireland that I think the procedure should be that we should enable the Northern Ireland Parliament to legislate on the subject, as was done in a similar context in 1949.

Apart from that, there are a number of other points of substance on which the Bill departs from the recommendations of the Royal Commission, where again, in my view, the recommendations of the Royal Commission are to be preferred. My noble and learned friends have given examples of this, and I do not think it would be a profitable use of your Lordships' time if I were to repeat and complete the list. Your Lordships have heard enough to realise that there are important points which, in my view, must be considered.

That brings me to the matter of what we should do. I agree with everyone who has spoken that we ought to give a Second Reading to the Bill. As I have said, I think that there are two broad aspects where it must be reconsidered—first, that of bringing the United Kingdom into line; and, secondly, the various points where it would have been better, I believe, to adhere closely to the recommendations of the Commission. I think that the Bill requires careful examination. The method I had in mind—and I would say to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that this does not exclude consideration of his suggestion—is that your Lordships might think it profitable to have a considerable period before Committee stage, because part of the value of the noble Lord's Bill is that it brings this subject into public discussion and thereby collects views which might not otherwise be expressed. I thought that on Committee stage we might carefully consider the problems, some of which have been adumbrated by noble Lords and myself to-day. I want your Lordships to understand that I am anxious to give any help I can to my noble friend Lord Meston in improving the Bill.

When we have discussed it, I think that we should then be in a position to make up our minds whether the Bill, at this stage in the Session, and knowing that there is another place, would be the best instrument for getting these reforms into operation, or whether the noble Lord might then consider whether he would redraft the Bill and introduce a new measure in the next Session, which, in the ordinary way, would start in November of this year. Of course, as noble Lords who have been Ministers will understand, I cannot give at once the guarantee of the assistance of Parliamentary counsel, but I want your Lordships to know that I am most sympathetic and anxious to help in this matter and I will put it to my colleagues in that way.

I think that by this method we might at the beginning of next Session get a Bill which would command general assent in your Lordships' House and which would meet all the points which have been made from every part of the House to-day. I want to say again that this suggestion does not mean that my noble friend Lord Meston has conducted an unprofitable exercise in introducing this Bill. We are really grateful to him for doing it. I believe that we can examine this matter profitably as well as carefully, and eventually in the next Session the noble Lord may be able to produce a Bill which will command general assent. I hope that your Lordships will consider what I have said, give the Bill a Second Reading, and allow for delay before the Committee stage; and in the meantime I will consider what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has said. At the moment, I am disposed to think that it is not necessary to hold the matter up so long as he suggests. May I put it this way for his consideration? When we have seen what comes out of the Committee stage, let us then have a look at the proposal he has put forward. I hope that I have grasped and expressed the sense of your Lordships' House. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in expressing our gratitude to my noble friend Lord Meston for the service he has done.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor very much for the kind and friendly remarks which he has made about the Bill and about my humble effort in this direction. I should like to thank also all noble Lords, of enormous experience, who have spoken in support of the Second Reading of the Bill. I will not take up any more time, but will say that I respectfully agree with everything that has been said by the noble and learned Viscount about future procedure. I am prepared to fall into line and do anything which he regards as suitable in the circumstances. I should like to thank the Government and your Lordships for giving this rather technical subject such a fair and patient hearing, and I now leave the Bill in your Lordships' hands.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.