The Government are concerned to achieve the best possible arrangements for dealing with family business in the courts. Consideration is being given to the options in the light of consultation and further information that is being obtained. Ministers will not be in a position to take decisions until this work is complete.
Has my right hon. and learned Friend had time to study the remarks by Sir John Arnold, on his retirement as president of the High Court family division, that he could see no such inevitable substantial increase in public spending on the introduction of a family court that could justify its delay on fiscal grounds? If my right hon. and learned Friend is considering cost, will he also consider the potential savings on supplementary benefit and legal aid that would be made by the introduction of a comprehensive conciliation service? Above all, will he consider the saving in human misery that will be made when we put an end to our outdated, incoherent and over-adversarial court system?
I share my hon. Friend's great respect for the former president of the family division. Of course costs have to be considered when reflecting upon any means of improving our present system, which is, indeed, open to criticism, as I know my hon. Friend believes. All the options are being considered. I shall, of course, draw to the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor the contribution that my hon. Friend has just made.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman call to his noble Friend's attention the problems that currently arise, sometimes with great injustice, in connection with legal aid? Will he especially mention to him that wives receiving voluntary maintenance have it counted as part of their income, even if it is payable to the children? Will he ask his noble Friend to bear in mind the legal aid position in reviewing the whole family court system?
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that in 1974 the Finer committee recommended the establishment of a family court, that in October 1986 the Government asked for comments on that consultation paper, and that nothing further has happened? Does he appreciate that some of us who favour the introduction of family courts feel that the Government's policy on this issue is one of procrastination?
I am quite satisfied that there is no dragging of feet. As my hon. Friend, with his experience in these matters, will know, the matter is complex. A great deal is going on in the Lord Chancellor's Department. The civil justice review bears upon this and there is a degree of overlap with other matters that are being considered for innovation and reform. Ministers have asked for further information following the report of the interdepartmental committee, and as soon as he can my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will put forward recommendations for the decision of his colleagues. I cannot give a date for that, but we wish to do that as soon as possible.