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Lord Mishcon: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is dealing with a most important point. Does he feel that a magistrates' court in essence is a suitable court to be called a family court when, as a rule, a magistrates' court deals with criminal affairs?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I wish to answer that question very emphatically. I believe that the family proceedings court at the magistrates' level is an extremely effective way of dealing with family matters. That was one of the issues that we discussed when the Children Bill was before this House. I knew that more than one of your Lordships believed that a family court had to be based at least at the county court level. I did not share that view. I believe that in many matters, particularly those concerned with children, the law books and technical knowledge of the law, although helpful, have only limited value. I feel that the practical decisions about where a child should live and so on are just as well taken by the magistrates.
Since the noble Lord has intervened, I shall take this opportunity to say how well in my view, generally speaking I do not express an opinion on particular casesthe magistrates have responded to the challenge of the family proceedings court. Many of them have devoted many hours of their time, without remuneration of any kind and sometimes at considerable financial lossbecause of the nature of the financial loss provisions that we are able to operatein training to deal with such cases. I believe that my colleagues in the Family Division of the High Court and also those in the county court would wish to join in that tribute. That is not to say that every decision that every magistrates' court has taken in these matters is perfect. There are not many courtsshort of the infallibility of this Housewhich can claim better than that.
I have been distracted somewhat from the main matter of seeking to answer one or two questions that have been raised in relation to this Bill. So far as concerns the precise extent of the definitions, it is very much a matter for the Special Public Bill Committee looking at the evidence as a whole. Perhaps I should sayagain, I digress slightly from the main subjectthat I believe that in that procedure we now have a very good method of dealing with these matters.
Hitherto, there has been a feeling that Law Commission reports could go through Parliament rather quickly. But although the Law Commission has studied the matter very carefully, there are often quite substantial points of importance left. The trick has been to find a way to deal with them without unduly taking up time in the ordinary legislative process of your Lordships' House. The Special Public Bill Committee has proved to be a very good way of proceeding. This is the second Bill in this Session that will be committed to such a procedure. I feel that that is extremely good. Perhaps I should take this opportunity, as I see my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman in his place, to say how grateful I am that he took the chair both for that previous Bill and the one last year. Presiding over a new procedure, he has shown us all how to deal with the matter with fairness, thoroughness and reasonable expedition.
I accept the problems that have been mentioned in relation to the precise extent of the power to apply. I do not say that the courts cannot deal with matters such as those raised in the type of title that I have sought to set aside. I am looking for a very summary procedure. Therefore, anything that requires any prolonged investigation into the title of the person to raise it does not seem to me to be so suitable for that. I want to have a thoroughly good procedure which works quicklythat is necessaryin the vast majority of cases. To try to refine it and broaden it too far may damage the very objects that are being pursued.
With regard to protection outside the family homea point raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednalthat is primarily concerned with domestic violence; that is to say, violence in the home and the family home itself. The extent to which one can reasonably provide protection outside the home is a matter of some question. As I said in my opening speech, there is the possibility of protection for an area around the family home on the lines that presently exist and it is proposed that that should continue. But there is a grave question as to whether that protection can be moved to any place under this kind of legislation. Your Lordships would be wise to guard against trying to catch everything in legislation of this kind, which needs to be well focused in order to be reasonably comprehensible and reasonably comprehensive.
Important questions were raised by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the child. A child could come under the applicant section of the Bill. So far, I have not sought to lay down very clear indications of how the child might be consulted while the child is not an applicant itself. That
There is also the matter of new partners harassed by former partners. A link between them is created by the partner in common. No doubt that is a problem. Again, one must be careful in considering how far one should go.
I indicated in my opening remarks the principal reasons for not implementing the view taken by the Law Commission that the police should have power to initiate civil proceedings. I was asked what I regard as the core work of the police. Perhaps I should not attempt an inclusive definition. It is a grave question in general whether it is an appropriate matter for the police to raise civil proceedings. I know that in relation to certain proceedings under the Children Act, where a child is found in an emergency situation, the police, as the authority finding the child, will have power to apply for an emergency protection order. But that is an exceptional situation. There is a question of whether it is wise to involve the police generally in civil proceedings.
The precise scope of who are cohabitants is a matter that we can look at. Some provisions will include cohabitants of the same sex because sometimes it is necessary that protection of this sort be available to them.
The other matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, in relation to the new home is of considerable importance. My impression is that the Bill is aimed primarily at trying to protect the family unit within the old home, and that one of the possible ways of doing that is the ouster of the violent member of the family from that home. That is something we discussed in the Children Bill proceedings and I am glad to be able to get that far because it is an important change.
We may wish to discuss in Committee a number of matters in detail in the light of evidence, but I have taken up enough of your Lordships' time without going further into this matter. It is with a great deal of confidence therefore that I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
The main changes which the order seeks to make concern the abolition of the controls on televisions and a limited extension of the range of light refreshments available in betting shops. They have been the subject of extensive public consultation.
The order repeals the current controls which limit the size of television screens in betting offices to 30 inches and which prevent televisions being positioned where they are visible from outside the premises. Ten years ago television screens were new to betting offices, and the rules introduced at that time on their size and usage were conservative since no one was sure of the likely impact of their introduction. A decade later the controls seem unnecessarily restrictive, given the wide-ranging changes in the availability of television, video and cable in the home. Nowadays, it is impossible to envisage a betting office without television coverage of all forms of racing.
In reviewing the controls, we decided that it was preferable to abolish the size restriction completely and allow the betting industry the freedom to adopt the dimensions of television screens which were suitable for the size and location of premises.
The changes also remove the requirement that televisions are not visible from the street. Most people nowadays have reasonable access to television and many decide to video sporting events when they are not able to see them. We decided that it was preferable to do away with this unnecessary restriction completely, thereby putting betting offices on a par with other high street premises such as television rental shops. Our view is that these changes can be made without substantially eroding the principle that betting offices should provide reasonable facilities for punters in the course of their betting activities and should not be regarded as places of general entertainment.
The controls also provide for an extension of the very limited range of refreshments which betting offices can currently supply. Ten years ago the view was taken that punters should only be able to have a narrow range of snacks such as crisps and biscuits. We now consider that the range of light refreshments should be extended to include items such as prepackaged sandwiches and prepackaged snacks. Such refreshments should not, however, constitute a full restaurant meal. It is also an important principle that such refreshments have to be sold and cannot be offered as free inducements to customers to go into premises and bet. I reassure your Lordships that we have no intention of changing the controls on licensing which prevent betting offices selling alcoholic beverages or being used as places where alcoholic drinks can be consumed.
The changes represent modest deregulation for the betting industry without undermining the social basis of the controls. They will benefit consumers by providing them with a more pleasant environment in which to place their bets and will remove the straitjacket of somewhat petty and unnecessary controls for the industry. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.