HL Deb 20 June 1995 vol 565 cc220-6

7.36 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 15 [Evidence of agreement to marry]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 11, line 31, leave out ("of betrothal").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 1 to 6 represent minor and drafting amendments that have arisen following further consideration of those agreed at the Report stage of the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 is intended to widen the types of ceremonies which can be adduced in evidence of an agreement to marry. The amendment therefore includes those who have undergone a marriage ceremony outside the requirements of English law, as well as those who have undergone betrothal ceremonies. Your Lordships will remember that that question was raised by a number of noble Lords. I believe that we have found a neat way to accommodate an enlargement of the circumstances that might be covered, by shortening what was already contained in the Bill.

Clause 17(1), which was added as a result of consideration by your Lordships in Committee and on Report, currently refers only to an undertaking being given by a respondent. A situation could arise, however, where it was necessary to take cross undertakings. That point was drawn to our attention by a practitioner who saw the Bill as reported. The point was made to us that undertakings might well be given by others than the respondent. Obviously your Lordships would wish to cover those undertakings. I am grateful for that information. It shows the importance of practical points of that kind being drawn to our attention in time. Amendment No. 2, therefore, is intended to clarify that the court is able to accept such undertakings from the applicant, the respondent or any other party to the proceedings.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 represent minor drafting improvements to Schedule 3. Amendment No. 5 represents a consequential amendment to Schedule 5, deleting "rights of occupation" in favour of the new term "matrimonial home rights".

Amendment No. 6 is intended to allocate to the Family Division of the High Court proceedings arising from an appeal from an order or decision under Section 63(3) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 to enforce an order of a magistrates' court. The amendment adds proceedings under the Bill to paragraph 3(d) of Schedule 1 to the Supreme Court Act 1981.

As your Lordships see, all the amendments' are minor and drafting amendments. Therefore, I have spoken to them together. I beg to move.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted a few words on Amendment No. 1. It is a happy issue out of our afflictions. The amendment addresses the one unresolved issue which remained after Report stage in relation to the questions: who are associated persons, and how is that status to be established? The amendment completely meets our anxieties and we are most grateful.

Perhaps I may add my tribute to the draftsmanship, which is hardly short of genius. By the deletion of two superfluous words, the entire problem is removed. Would that all government amendments were at once so accommodating and so economical.

Lord Meston

My Lords, I completely associate myself with those words. In general, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and his officials for their continued consideration of the Bill through all its stages, with the result that it arrives in this form. In particular, I join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, in congratulating the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the lateral thinking which has brought about this rather neat amendment, Amendment No. 1.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the amendment. I believe that the matter arose from an amendment that I put forward at Committee stage which attempted to bring back into the Bill one of the group of associated persons which was in the Law Commission Bill but not in the Government's Bill.

It has been quite a long and interesting haul from Committee stage, through Report stage, to Third Reading. However, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord. He has written to me about the matter. He has taken infinite trouble to try to get it right. We are all grateful, and happy at the result. I support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Undertakings]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 12, line 13, leave out ("the respondent") and insert ("any party to the proceedings").

The noble and learned Lord said: I have spoken to Amendment Nos. 2 to 6 with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Amendments of Children Act 1989]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendments Nos. 3 and 4:

Page 25, line 42, leave out from ("authority") to ("period") in line 44 and insert ("have removed the child from the dwelling-house from which the relevant person is excluded to other accommodation for a continuous").

Page 27, line 32, leave out from ("applicant") to ("period") in line 34 and insert ("has removed the child from the dwelling-house from which the relevant person is excluded to other accommodation for a continuous").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Consequential amendments]:

The Lord Chancellor moved Amendments Nos. 5 and 6:

Page 32, line 7, at end insert ("and for "rights of occupation" there is substituted "matrimonial home rights").

Page 32, line 45, at end insert:

("The Supreme Court Act 1981 (c. 54)

. In Schedule 1 to the Supreme Court Act 1981 (distribution of business in High Court), in paragraph 3 (Family Division)—

  1. (a) in paragraph (d), after "matrimonial proceedings" there is inserted "or proceedings under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Act 1995", and
  2. (b) in paragraph (f) (i), for "Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976" there is substituted "Family Homes and Domestic Violence Act 1995".").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

7.45 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I nearly missed the cue. It would be quite remiss of me if I did not say that at its inception this was a Bill which we on the Opposition Benches were as anxious to see enacted as were the Government. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accepts that. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Law Commission. As it celebrates its 30th anniversary, it is good to see if not a stream, at least an escalating rivulet, of Law Commission Bills proceeding to the statute book.

Our proceedings have demonstrated how a Bill which in essence is not controversial can improve from an exercise in listening to informed witnesses, and, perhaps even more importantly, listening to one another. That we owe in large part to the chairmanship at the Committee stage of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.

I should add our thanks, too, to those who took the trouble to give evidence in Committee, both orally and in writing. I found myself persuaded on a number of issues by having the benefit of their experience and wisdom.

I believe that it was a good Bill when it was introduced, and that it has improved in the course of our deliberations. May that be the fate of many future Law Commission Bills.

Lord Meston

My Lords, I echo everything that has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. Indeed, this was a good Bill; it is now a better Bill as it passes from this House. The procedure of the Jellicoe Committee which this Bill enjoyed has proved particularly valuable. It enabled the Special Public Bill Committee of the House to give detailed thought to the Bill. I would certainly wish to join in paying a sincere tribute to our chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. It was quite apparent to everyone on the committee that he undertook an immense amount of concentrated work behind the scenes.

It is a characteristic of the Jellicoe procedure that there arrives a large amount of solicited and unsolicited material which has to be absorbed in a relatively short period of time. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, marshalled that evidence before the Committee, in such a way that it was presented to us in a manageable and logical form. It enabled the questioning of the witnesses who gave oral evidence to be greatly enhanced in both content and form. I hope that the procedure will be used again in similar circumstances and that future Committees will have the services of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman.

I pay tribute to the responsive and speedy way in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and his officials, and indeed the draftsmen of the Bill, dealt with the various suggested amendments for the benefit of the Committee, and subsequently for the benefit of the House at Report stage and Third Reading.

The remarkable feature of the Bill is that at every stage there has been room for some further improvement. I hope that your Lordships will wish this Bill well as it proceeds to another place.

Baroness David

My Lords, as a Member of the Special Public Bill Committee on the Bill, I should like to associate myself with what has been said. It is almost the first time that this procedure has been followed with a Bill that is not too controversial, with success. However, it was to me the most fascinating experience. The Bill had been prepared by the Law Commission; we considered it rather good to start with. There were only two exceptions in the Bill produced by the Government to what had been proposed in the Law Commission Bill. It was of particular interest that in the course of the Committee stage a good many more changes were brought about as a result of the evidence and the lawyers on the Committee. However, I still believe that it was good that we had a few lay Members to ask some questions. I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is a lawyer. He probably is. However, Members of the Committee, and in particular the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, brought forward many questions. I believe that it is a much better Bill than the Bill which came before the Committee in the first place.

It has been an extremely interesting experience. I hope that more Bills will go through this process, although I understand that it involves an enormous amount of work for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I should like to add my tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. He undertook a huge amount of work in the background. The first index of queries that he produced was of tremendous help to the Committee. I pay great tribute to his chairmanship.

I wish the Bill well. I hope that it will hurry through the other place and will soon receive Royal Assent.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the kind remarks which have been made on my chairmanship. Leaving that aside, I am a committed supporter of the Jellicoe procedure. As we have a few moments to spare, perhaps I may add a few words about the procedure. Apart from the fact that it saves much time on the Floor of the House, in my submission it tends to produce a much better Bill of the type suitable to be referred to the Committee than if the Bill had proceeded along normal lines. The procedure is not suitable for a party political Bill on which the Government or the Opposition will put a Whip, but for other Bills it has a great future.

As some noble Lords know, before the Committee sits, the Bill is sent to about 100 informed sources, as I shall call them, for written comments. After that, a few people appear before us in person who give us their views orally. As a result, any problems are exposed in due time and the improvements which can be made come before us for consideration. After that has taken place we have an informal discussion on draft amendments before anything is done formally. Then after that informal discussion we meet for a proper Public Bill Committee.

As a result of the preliminary discussions, we usually seem to reach a consensus and only occasionally do we need to divide. When we sit as a Public Bill Committee, we all vote as informed Peers. We know what we are voting about and the result is that at the end of the day we have a much better Bill than would have resulted from the normal process.

I wish to add only one further point. In December of last year, the Select Committee on Procedure of the House made eight recommendations. The first was that further opportunities should be found for the use of Special Public Bill Committee procedures, in particular for Law Commission Bills and also for other Bills introduced into either House. So far, a Special Public Bill Committee has dealt with only law reform Bills, three in number. I do not know whether my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor can say whether there is any prospect of the procedure being used for Bills other than law reform legislation.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the last question which my noble and learned friend asked before I come to more general matters. The criteria for using the system would be that the Bills were not of a party political controversial nature; secondly, that they are of a type which would profit from the extended examination of evidence which is involved in the Jellicoe procedure; and, thirdly, that they are generally welcomed in principle in the House when they are given a Second Reading. In the cases in which the procedure has been used, I have been careful to seek to secure agreement in advance for the whole course of the Bills. I wish to acknowledge openly and warmly the assistance that I have received from the Opposition parties. The result has been that the procedure has been based on a confidence that the matter has been thoroughly examined here before the Bill is sent to the other place.

I believe that Bills other than Law Commission Bills would fulfil those criteria. The subject matter could be quite varied and I hope that in due course my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman will have the opportunity to sit on a Jellicoe committee dealing with a Bill which did not originate from the Law Commission. I do not believe that I can go further than that at present.

I warmly associate myself with all that has been said about the distinguished chairmanship of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman. I learnt of some of his many distinguished qualities in my earlier existence, but this is another and extremely important chapter in his achievements. He has sat as chairman on three occasions: once last Session and twice this Session. The first two were extremely technical Bills in the sense that they were of interest to lawyers and perhaps only those who practise law. Obviously, any law has consequences for others, but the Bills were of particular interest to lawyers.

This Bill is quite different; it is of great interest and importance to a wide spectrum of practitioners and people who have a general interest both in domestic violence and in matrimonial homes. We received help by way of evidence from a large spectrum of organisations with knowledge relevant to the Bill. At the beginning, I was slightly nervous about that applying, but I could see it as a way forward and hoped that it would work. The results have fully justified seeking the agreement to use the procedure which I obtained from those representing the Opposition parties.

At one time it was suggested that the Jellicoe procedure allowed matters to go through the House on the nod. I do not believe any noble Lords who served on any of the Jellicoe committees would regard that as remotely being true—quite the opposite. The Bills that are taken by this method are thoroughly considered in all their aspects and exposed to testing by the views of those who are expert on the subject. For my part, I feel confident that the Bill in its present form has been fully considered, and that we have had the benefit of great help.

I join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and all other noble Lords who have spoken, in thanking the organisations and practitioners who have taken part and given so fully of their time in helping us. I am sure that the Bill is better as a result. I do not think it would be right to single out particular people because we were helped by many organisations, as noble Lords who were on the Committee know. All the assistance was extremely valuable.

I also wish to say how grateful I am to those noble Lords who served on the Committee. It is a demanding task; much time and effort was devoted to it. One cannot become a master of such a Bill without a good deal of time and effort which all members of the Committee gave. I am grateful to them and I am sure that the result is all the better for it.

On behalf of my officials and myself, I am grateful for what was said about us. We have found it a rewarding way of helping matters to proceed. The measure is extremely important, it deals with a sad area, and all of us would like to see domestic violence completely eliminated. However, we are dealing with the real world and I hope that we have managed to produce the best possible regime for dealing with such delicate matters.

I join with noble Lords who wish the Bill a speedy passage in the other place. It goes there in a state such that the other place can have confidence that it has been thoroughly examined. I join also in the thanks to the Law Commission for the work that it did, not only in preparing the draft Bill and the report with which it was associated, but also for the help that it gave us with our evidence during the course of our proceedings.

On the whole this has been an extremely valuable exercise. I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part. I am also grateful to those who did not take part in the Committee but who have been confident in our work and have been willing today to pass what we have done.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Baroness Trumping ton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.25 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8 to 8.25 p.m.]