Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:04 pm on 11th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 1:04 pm, 11th May 2018

My Lords, I should perhaps begin by saying that I know a good deal less about this subject and its operation in practice than the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Shackleton, matrimonial law never having been my special subject, either at the Bar or on the Bench.

Inevitably, however, I was involved in a number of cases that reached the courts including that most seminal of early pre-nuptial settlement cases, referred to several times already, that of Granatino v Radmacher —the title can be the other way round, depending on where you see the case reported. This was a case on which nine of us sat in the Supreme Court and all but one, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, who is now of course the President of that court, gave substantially greater effect to such an agreement than the noble and learned Baroness would have given, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has explained, we hedged it about with more qualifications than were no doubt necessary or ideal. That decision was, as the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, has made plain, contrary to the interests of her client, for which I suspect she has never yet forgiven us although I was glad to see that, as I understand it, she now supports Clause 3. My noble and learned friend Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe was also on the case, as he has said, and I take this opportunity to acknowledge his great skills as a legal analyst and draftsman although, like me, he was never a matrimonial specialist.

Tinker as one may wish to do with some of the details of this Bill, its essential structure is, I suggest, a model of sound parliamentary draftsmanship. On the substance of the Bill, there is really very little that I wish to say at this stage. The essential points have already been made. Many will be repeated, I expect, perhaps with fresh shades of lipstick, if that is not nowadays an impermissibly sexist metaphor.

Essentially this subject raises, as so many areas of law raise, the age-old tension between the competing interests on the one hand of certainty and predictability, and on the other of flexibility. Yesterday, as it happens, we discussed in this Chamber that tension in the context of the Civil Liability Bill, in particular as to the compensation for whiplash injuries. We are described as the whiplash capital of the world. Today, the same tension arises in the context of financial provision following divorce; again, we are described as the divorce capital of the world. What this Bill essentially aims at, just as yesterday’s, is to shift the balance rather further in the interests of predictability so as, among other things, to shorten, cheapen and hasten the resolution of disputes or potential disputes about the division of assets and so forth, when a marriage ends.

For all the reasons so ably and compellingly set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in her truly brilliant opening of this debate, I am persuaded that it is indeed now time to make this area of our law altogether more predictable than, alas, it has increasingly become over the 40 and more years since the 1973 Act. As to the specific rules, principles, policies, approaches—call them what one will—by which the Bill proposes to further this fundamental goal of greater predictability, I find myself in broad and substantial agreement with its provisions. I look forward to hearing the views of others on certain of the niceties of the Bill and I hope to have a clearer view of my own when eventually we come, as I hope we shall, to Committee. Meanwhile, I wish the Bill a fair wind onward.