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COMMONS AMENDMENT

9 Clause 5, page 3, line 27, leave out 'more than one year' and insert 'one year ("the specified period")'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9. I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12.

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The Bill has always allowed parties to suspend the passing of the period for reflection and consideration, by notifying the court that they wish to attempt reconciliation. These amendments provide that the passing of the lapse period, following the period for reflection and consideration, can also be suspended for the same reason. This will therefore encourage attempts at reconciliation right up until the time of an application for a divorce or separation order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

10 Clause 5, page 3, line 30, after 'the' insert 'specified'.
11 Page3, line 30, at end insert--
'(4A) Subsection (4B) applies if, before the end of the specified period, the parties jointly give notice to the court that they are attempting reconciliation but require additional time.
(4B) The specified period--
(a) stops running on the day on which the notice is received by the court; but
(b) resumes running on the day on which either of the parties gives notice to the court that the attempted reconciliation has been unsuccessful.
(4C) If the specified period is interrupted by a continuous period of more than 18 months, any application by either of the parties for a divorce order or for a separation order must be by reference to a new statement received by the court at any time after the end of the 18 months.'.
12 Page3, leave out line 32 and insert 'the specified period'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 en bloc.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 en bloc.--(The Lord Chancellor).

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

13 Clause 7, page 4, line 26, leave out 'one year' and insert 'nine months'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13. At the same time, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 16.

This amendment reduces the period for reflection and consideration from one year to 9 months. Amendment No. 16 provides that no statement of marital breakdown may be made fewer than three months after attendance at an information meeting. This is in order that there may be a three month 'cooling-off' period between attendance at an information meeting and the making of a statement. Other amendments which have already been debated provide that this three month period will be used to provide parties with an opportunity to have a meeting with a marriage counsellor and that the party or parties attending the meeting would be encouraged to take up that offer, although they would not be compelled to do so.

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It was always the intention that the extra three months given to parties to consider the information that they had received should not extend the overall period for reflection and consideration. Amendment No. 13 provides for this. Were the period for reflection and consideration to remain at 12 months, the overall period would be 15 and 21 months. The view taken on a free vote in the other place was that the overall period should be 12 months or 18 months if the six month extension were to apply.

This really gives effect to the desire that a number of your Lordships expressed, including my noble friend Lady Young, that the period of reflection and consideration should have, effectively, meant a period in which conciliation was the primary matter in issue. This is a way of arriving at that solution. I hope noble Lords will feel able to accept the amendment.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

14 Clause 7, page 5, line 2, leave out 'give joint' and insert 'jointly give'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14.

In moving the above amendment I shall speak also to quite a large number of other Commons amendments which are linked, to some extent, by their diversity, but also by the fact that they are minor. I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 54 to 58 inclusive, Amendment No. 78, Amendments Nos. 83 to 92, Amendments Nos. 95, 104, 108, 109, 113, 117 to 127 and 129 to 137. They are all minor technical, consequential and drafting amendments which do not make any policy changes.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 14.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

15 Clause 7, page 5, line 14, at end insert--
'(10) Where an application for a divorce order is made by one party, subsection (13) applies if--
(a) the other party applies to the court, within the prescribed period, for time for further reflection; and
(b) the requirements of section 9 (except any imposed under section 9(3)) are satisfied.
(11) Where any application for a divorce order is made, subsection (13) also applies if there is a child of the family who is under the age of sixteen when the application is made.
(12) Subsection (13) does not apply if--
(a) at the time when the application for a divorce order is made, there is an occupation order or a non-molestation order in force in favour of the applicant, or of a child of the family made against the other party; or
(b) the court is satisfied that delaying the making of a divorce order would be significantly detrimental to the welfare of any child of the family.

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(13) If this subsection applies, the period for reflection and consideration is extended by a period of six months, but--
(a) only in relation to the application for a divorce order in respect of which the application under subsection (10) was made; and
(b) without invalidating that application for a divorce order.
(14) A period for reflection and consideration which is extended under subsection (13) and which has not otherwise come to an end, comes to an end on there ceasing to be any children of the family to whom subsection (11) applied.'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No.15. I spoke to this amendment when dealing with Amendment No. 3.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

8.45 p.m.

MOTION MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS AMENDMENT No. 15

15A That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.

Earl Russell rose to move, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, before attempting to give the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack one last run for his money, I should like to pay tribute to the way that he has handled the Bill from the very beginning. First, I should like to pay tribute to the exhaustive--and I should imagine that the noble and learned Lord would wish to add the word "exhausting"--process of consultation that he has undertaken. As one who has many times complained of inadequate consultation, it really is incumbent upon me to pay tribute to more than adequate consultation where we find it.

Secondly, I should like to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord's skill, good humour and, indeed, the patience of the blessed Job with which he has handled the business as it has gone through the House. If it should fall to anyone on this side of the House to bring in a major piece of legislation, I can think of no better model to follow for how it should be done. But, as the Bill went through its passage in both Houses, I have also come to the conclusion that the best Bill was the one which the noble and learned Lord first put before us. In relation to Part IV, I mean the part that went through the Jellicoe procedure last Session. I believe that that is a tribute to the noble and learned Lord's skill. My intention here is to restore the Bill to the state in which the noble and learned Lord first introduced it.

On all the other amendments that we have discussed tonight we have seen the extent of the noble and learned Lord's skill in producing consensus. When I say that the best Bill was the one that he first placed before us, I do not mean the Bill that I personally would have liked most. The job of a Bill on this subject is to secure the consent of as wide a group of people as possible. I believe that the noble and learned Lord got that right

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the first time and that the changes which have been introduced since then have diminished the range of consent. In particular, the Law Society's withdrawal of consent to the Bill was a hammer blow of which we must take considerable account.

When a piece of legislation of this sort is introduced, it must be necessary to hope that it will last for at least a generation. I believe that the Bill the noble and learned Lord first introduced met that criterion. The Bill as we have it now, after bitter battles in the course of its passage, falls short of meeting it.

The arguments on the matter are well rehearsed. Your Lordships may be relieved to hear that I shall not go through them at length; indeed, I believe that most of us know them. The noble Baroness, Lady Young--to whose conduct during the passage of the Bill I must also pay tribute--has always argued that one preserves marriage by making divorce more difficult. However, on the other hand, I have argued that by making divorce more difficult all one achieves is making break-up more painful. I do not think that we shall reach agreement. I believe that everyone knows where they stand in that respect. Therefore, I shall not pursue the matter further.

However, people tend to come out of marriage suffering from centrifugal force, very much in the way that certain people come out of a political party when they leave it. I believe that we risk having a large number of messy and disorderly separations where people are living with one person while married to another. Further, I think that we shall see a considerable fall in the number of couples who choose to go through the ceremony of marriage.

A decline in the number of couples who choose to go through the marriage ceremony may not dismay me as much as it may dismay some of your Lordships. But, if there are couples who wish to go through that ceremony, then, to deter them from so doing when they would wish to do so, would, on good liberal principles, be something that I mind very much indeed. I believe that that will be the effect of leaving the Bill in its current form. Therefore, if we are to gain consent, especially from younger people whose attitudes to such matters are changing steadily--and it is a change which we all must in one way or another accommodate--we would do better to put the Bill back to where it was when the noble and learned Lord first presented it to us. It is to put down a marker for that position that I have decided to place the amendment before your Lordships tonight.

Moved, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 15.--(Earl Russell.)


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