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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as I said, so far as I am concerned, the way that one makes progress on such an issue is by free votes and then by embracing the result of that vote in carrying it forward. Of course the noble Earl is perfectly entitled to say--as, indeed, he did earlier--that the same principle of a free vote applies here. However, in the circumstances in which we are placed, and taking into account the way that the matter has developed, I humbly suggest that your Lordships would be wise to embrace the decision which the other place has taken on a free vote.

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In relation to the previous amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Habgood, I said that, in practice, there is not likely to be such a tremendous difference as in theory might appear to be the case. The same is to some extent true in this case. If one has a situation where the parties are not in agreement so far as concerns divorce, it is likely that the making of arrangements between them will also take quite a considerable time. One of the features of this Bill to which I attach great importance is that, before divorce is granted, those arrangements must be made. Therefore, in practice--and it is the practical rather than the theoretical effect of the law that we should look at--I believe that the results would not be very different.

For my part, as I said, it is a free matter and your Lordships must deal with it on that basis. However, I personally suggest to your Lordships that it would be wise to accept the judgment of the other place and reject the Motion to disagree with Commons Amendment No. 15.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may reply briefly. I respect the arguments about the practical issues. However, I am not quite so impressed by the arguments about the other place. I believe that this place is free to take its own view on any matter. It is free to disagree with another place when it sees fit. I do not sense among your Lordships any great appetite tonight to take the matter further, though it is a matter to which we shall return in the next Parliament. It may return in a rather more laborious form than it would have done tonight. However, I sense the mood of the House and, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

AMENDMENT TO COMMONS AMENDMENT No. 15

15B Clause 7, in subsection (10), leave out paragraph (a) and insert--
"(a) the other party objects (whether or not because of deeply held religious beliefs)--
(i) to being divorced, or
(ii) to being divorced without time for further reflection,
and applies to the court before the end of such period as may be prescribed by rules of court for time for further reflection;
(b) the application under paragraph (a) states that objection; and".).

Baroness Young: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 15B as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 15. I shall speak briefly on this matter. I have tabled this amendment because it is my understanding that a number of Members in another place wished to have this amendment but time did not allow it to be debated. I hope I am correct in saying that an understanding was given by the parliamentary Under-Secretary, my honourable friend Mr. Streeter, that the Government would look on this matter favourably.

As it is set out, this is quite a simple amendment. It signals to the court that an objection to a divorce is implicit in Amendment No. 15. However, my Amendments Nos. 15B and 15D allow this objection to

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be recorded on the divorce order. The party objecting to the divorce is free to decide whether or not the objection is recorded. This is not a matter which I would think of pressing to a Division. It is quite straightforward. I hope that my noble and learned friend will say that when he considers regulations under the Bill this point may be considered. I beg to move.

Moved, That Amendment No. 15B, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 15, be agreed to.--(Baroness Young.)

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, this amendment was in the "free vote territory" in which the Government did not express a view. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary--the Lord Chancellor is different from others in that he has a Parliamentary Secretary rather than a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, as the Lord Chancellor is not himself a Secretary, at least not technically--Mr. Streeter, indicated that he would be prepared to support this amendment if it were moved, but it was never moved.

The precise form of this amendment is open to question. I do not think I need to delay your Lordships by discussion of that in view of the way my noble friend has presented the matter. The question of the form of orders and so on is a matter that may be within the competence of the relevant rule committee; that is, a body which would have authority to deal with matters of practice and procedure. I am willing to draw the attention of that body to the matter that my noble friend has raised and await the outcome of its deliberations on that. I hope that, with that indication of the way in which I would handle this matter, my noble friend may feel that the purpose of her amendment has been sufficiently served.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that practical suggestion. I think that is the way to proceed. As I am on my feet, I must apologise to him for describing the Parliamentary Secretary in another place incorrectly. I hope I have it right now and I trust I shall not make that mistake again. I am grateful for what my noble and learned friend has suggested. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 15B.

Amendment No. 15B, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 15, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 15C and 15D not moved.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

16 Clause 8, page 5, line 17, after 'meeting', insert 'not less than three months'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have spoken to this with Amendment No. 13. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 16.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

27 Jun 1996 : Column 1097

COMMONS AMENDMENT

17 Page 5, line 17, at end insert
'(2A) Different information meetings must be arranged with respect to different marriages.'

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 17. With this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21 to 26 inclusive.

I am pleased to present this group of amendments to the House. I recall some of the concerns which were expressed by some of your Lordships during the Bill's passage through this House, and I believe that this group of amendments addresses those concerns. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, expressed concern about the privacy of information meetings. Amendment No. 17 provides for meetings to be held not as group meetings but with parties attending individually, although it is drafted in such a way as to allow both spouses to attend together or with a third party to accompany them if they so wish. The noble Baroness also expressed concern about the identification and qualification of information providers. I believe that Amendments Nos. 19, 21 and 23 satisfy this concern.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 26 extend the list of matters set out in Clause 8 of the Bill, about which regulations must make provision for information to be given at the information meeting. The additional points are protection against domestic violence and how to obtain support and assistance, legal representation, and the principles of the legal aid scheme and how the parties can get advice about obtaining legal aid. I would emphasise that the list now contained within Clause 8 is not exhaustive. It is still intended to pilot the information meetings extensively, and to develop the exact format and content accordingly. Amendments Nos. 18 and 22 are simply drafting amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 17.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

18 Page 5, line 28, after 'purpose', insert '--(a)'.
19 Page 5, line 28, leave out 'the party or parties attending with relevant information' and insert ', in accordance with prescribed provisions, relevant information to the party or parties attending'.
20 Page 5, line 30, at end insert- '; and
(b) of giving the party or parties attending the information meeting the opportunity of having a meeting with a marriage counsellor and of encouraging that party or those parties to attend that meeting'.
21 Page 5, line 30, at end insert--
'( ) An information meeting must be conducted by a person who--
(a) is qualified and appointed in accordance with prescribed provisions; and
(b) will have no financial or other interest in any marital proceedings between the parties.'.

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22 Page 5, line 35, leave out 'and'.
23 Page 5, line 38, at end insert--
'(d) for information of a prescribed kind to be given only with the approval of the Lord Chancellor or only by a person or by persons approved by him; and
(e) for information to be given, in prescribed circumstances, only with the approval of the Lord Chancellor or only by a person or by persons approved by him.'.
24 Page 6, line 2, at end insert--
'( ) protection available against violence, and how to obtain support and assistance;'.
25 Page 6, line 4, at end insert 'and representation'.
26 Page 6, line 4, at end insert--
'( ) the principles of legal aid and where the parties can get advice about obtaining legal aid;'.
27 Page 6, line 8, at end insert--
'( ) A meeting with a marriage counsellor arranged under this section--
(a) must be held in accordance with prescribed provisions; and
(b) must be with a person qualified and appointed in accordance with prescribed provisions.'.
28 Page 6, line 8, at end insert--
'( ) A person who would not be required to make any contribution towards mediation provided for him under Part IIIA of the Legal Aid Act 1988 shall not be required to make any contribution towards the cost of a meeting with a marriage counsellor arranged for him under this section.'.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 18 to 28 en bloc. I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 with Amendment No. 17; to Amendment No. 20 with Amendment No. 1; to Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 with Amendment No. 17; to Amendments Nos. 23, 24, 25 and 26 with Amendment No. 17; to Amendment No. 27 with Amendment No. 1; to Amendment No. 28 with Amendment No. 1; to Amendment No. 29 with Amendment No. 6; to Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 with Amendment No. 2 and to Amendment No. 32 with Amendment No.8.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 18 to 28.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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