Increased support for marriage and civil partnerships

Part of Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 6:42 pm, 17th June 2020

It is pleasure to see the Lord Chancellor in his place. I am sorry if the queue—or perhaps short legs—meant that I arrived just as he was getting to his feet. I did not get the chance earlier, but I pay tribute to the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, who dealt with the Committee stage with great skill and commitment.

I welcome the Bill because, as I said on Second Reading, I am a one nation, mainstream Conservative who believes that it is as well to legislate for the world as it is rather than the world as it should be. That is what we have done with this Bill. Ultimately, a law that does not reflect the way people live their lives falls into disrepute. We are avoiding that situation with this legislation. I know that that is genuinely painful for a number of Members in this House, but it is also genuinely painful for anyone to go through the matter of divorce.

I was glad that my right hon. and learned Friend gave the indication that he did to my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, because he raised an important point about how we deal with assisting people through this most difficult of situations. I know of my hon. Friend’s good faith in this matter and that he will pursue that; many people have much sympathy with that point.

I wish to say one other thing. We will rightly remove the question of the need to prove fault and the contention and antagonism that that causes. I hope that we can now concentrate on the question of financial orders and children, and that we make sure that that can be done as expeditiously as possible. The other thing that could perhaps remove antagonism in the process is access to early legal advice.

I have always taken the view, as the Lord Chancellor knows, that we perhaps took too much out of legal aid funding in some areas; the removal of legal aid support for early advice in matrimonial matters was, I think, an error, and it does no harm to admit that. The Justice Committee has called in a number of reports for it to be reinstated. I accept that this Bill is not the vehicle for it, but I hope that, when the Lord Chancellor has discussions with the Chancellor and others, he will bear in mind that that would be a sensible, humane and civilised thing to do. In practical terms, it will be much better if mediation can be used to resolve many of those matters once the process of divorce is dealt with in a much less stringent manner, and it has been demonstrated clearly in evidence to our Select Committee that the best gateway to mediation and a much more collaborative approach to achieving resolution is through early access to a lawyer, because the lawyers are the gatekeepers of the mediation process. Money spent on that would, I submit, be money well spent both in terms of savings of court time and burdens on social services when having to resolve confrontational custody and child-related applications, and in terms of society as a whole. It would also be the decent thing to do. With those comments and with the knowledge that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will take them on board, I commend the Bill the House.