Amendment 7

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL] - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 3 March 2020.

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Lord Farmer:

Moved by Lord Farmer

7: Clause 1, page 2, line 19, at end insert—“( ) In the case of an application that is to proceed as an application by one party to the marriage only, there shall be no commencement of financial provision proceedings until the end of the period of 20 weeks from the start of the proceedings for the divorce order unless—(a) the other party to the marriage agrees to the commencement of financial provision proceedings, or(b) there is an application under section 22 for the court to make an order for maintenance pending suit.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that there are no discussions about financial settlement for 20 weeks unless both parties agree or there is an application to the court for interim maintenance and financial injunctions.

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative

My Lords, this amendment would ensure that there are no discussions about financial settlement for 20 weeks unless both parties agree, or unless there is an application to the court for interim maintenance and financial injunctions.

The 20-week period I refer to is dependent on the longer period argued for in Amendment 4, which was 46 weeks. If the minimum period is only 20 weeks before a conditional order is granted, a shorter legislation-free period would be appropriate. However, as I am arguing with my noble friend for a 46-week minimum period, waiting 20 weeks before even starting to sort out finances allows the genuine pause for reflection the Government say they are committed to.

There are already many divorces initiated which are not pursued to final order. That number might reduce considerably under a legislative framework that has no natural brake pedal. The Law Society supports the concept of a litigation-free period. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP

My Lords, I support Amendment 7. It would carve out a specific 12-week period at the beginning of the divorce process where no financial provision proceedings may take place. Of course, this would not include cases where both parties agree to commencement of such proceedings, or where there is an application for maintenance.

This is a vital amendment, as it would act in the interests of vulnerable respondents and improve the chances of reconciliation. It serves to recognise that the parties to a marriage might have very different perceptions of the marriage at the point when a divorce application is made. It may come out of the blue for one party—we have heard that referred to earlier. They will need time, and it is not helpful to be plunged into the heat of battle over finances. Financial provision proceedings are by nature contentious and would serve only to undermine the chances of meaningful conversation between spouses in the initial weeks. I believe that keeping the first 12 weeks free from litigation would increase the possibility of the parties being able to discuss their marriage without having to take up entrenched positions.

All couples should be given an opportunity, perhaps even be incentivised, to consider the ramifications of divorce carefully and work towards saving their marriage. Some divorcing couples do reconcile and most of those do so in the initial weeks of an application for divorce. This initial 12 weeks is a key period to try to save the marriage.

Ministers in the other place have said that once one party has asked for a divorce, inevitably—in 100% of cases—it means that the marriage is over. But they fail to mention the more than 10,000 divorce proceedings that are dropped each year, while this position is also counter to their own policy objective of making space for reconciliation. I know that we could argue all day about the reasons for that and whether some of them are attributable to cross-petitioning, but no one can deny that some people embark on a divorce and then change their mind because they reconcile with their spouse.

In evidence to a committee in the other place last year, David Hodson OBE, a distinguished family lawyer and spokesman for the Law Society, argued strongly for a 12-week litigation-free zone. He told the committee:

“We are very keen for there to be a period of reflection and consideration, which is what we had in the 1996 legislation in another form, to give an opportunity to pause, reflect, talk, maybe to have counselling, maybe in some cases to have reconciliation and maybe for one party to get up to speed with the other party. It is the constant experience of divorce lawyers that one party may have come to terms with the ending of a marriage before the other, so we are dealing with a very different emotional timetable. This three months will not be of any prejudice. If urgent applications have to be made for interim provision, that is fine. It will not affect children or domestic violence, which are always separate proceedings. It just is a litigation-free zone for three months.”—[Official Report, Commons, Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill Committee, 2/7/19; col. 9.]

Writing into divorce law the concept of a three-month litigation-free period will send a vital signal of hope to divorcing couples that perhaps they can work out their differences. It will give them the time and space to attempt to do so. Most of the debate on the Bill has focused on the barriers to divorce which couples face when their marriage has broken down, but not much time has been spent discussing how many couples reconcile and want to have a strong marriage.

I do not think I need to remind the Committee of the impact of family breakdown in the United Kingdom. We have one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the developed world. Surely this shocking fact places a duty upon us, as legislators, to do something to keep families together if possible. We all recognise that some marriages are unsavable but the Government should not focus on those alone. In addition, we must do all that we can to save marriages which are savable. They exist: why else would we have a proliferation of marriage counselling services? Does our own experience of marriage not tell us that, too? Many marriages go through rocky periods where the spouses, and their family and friends, fear that the writing is on the wall. But then conversations take place, apologies are offered and accepted, and changes are made to behaviour and circumstances—and a few years later, the couple are happier than ever. Let us do something for them, not just the ones where all hope is lost.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

My Lords, the phrase “the heat of the battle”, just used by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, provides a very succinct and appropriate introduction to my amendment. Everyone who has spoken so far has been in agreement. We support the institution of marriage and civil partnership. We want people to be stable and happy, to avoid disputes, and to provide security and warmth for their children. We differ only on the detail of how best to do it.

The difference between the context of today and that of the last time divorce was debated is the social context: more varieties of relationship, more avoidance of marriage, less disapproval when things go wrong, and more individualism within and outside of the couple’s relationship. The enduring problem is the effect on children of the break-up and how to cope with the dismantling of the housing and financial structure created by the parents. They used to say, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure”; this Bill will put an end to that. It will be “Marry at leisure”—because so many people prefer to cohabit first—and “Repent or divorce in haste”.

I accept that the wish of nearly everyone is to remove as much dispute as possible from the divorce process: to get it over and done with, as quickly as possible, to reduce the pain. It is in that spirit that I am introducing Amendment 20. In their good intentions, the Government have put the cart before the horse. Divorce, whatever its basis, will be over and done with perhaps in weeks or months. But the financial settlement for the couple and their children will have a lifelong effect and is likely to take much longer to arrange than the divorce. It will contain all the bitterness and antagonism that this Bill tries to remove from the substantive divorce.

I have spoken many times about the iniquities of our outdated financial provision law and I will not rehearse them here, save to remind noble Lords that distinguished lawyers—and more importantly members of the public—find that law uncertain and overly judge-made, with little resemblance to the governing statute. The law has no public input, remains unreformed for half a century of social changes and is very costly. I have a list of cases where the legal costs amount to half or more of the couple’s assets. We must also remember that there is no legal aid, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has reminded us. Those who must represent themselves are left to flounder without even the most basic knowledge of what principles of division they should adopt.

Children’s needs are neglected while the adults fight. Only this week, the Times reported that one-third of separated parents are avoiding child payments. The Government will not succeed in removing hostility from the divorce proceedings unless they bring the financial provision law into line. It is almost oven-ready, as they say, as a few years ago the Law Commission drafted a Bill to put prenuptial agreements on a statutory basis. All who know Scottish law can see that its system is far better, cheaper and fairer, with much less recourse to litigation.

I have on several occasions set out proposals for reform, now taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, in her Private Member’s Bill—the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill. She is unable to be in her place at this moment, but she is in full support of everything that I am saying.

With the Government’s Bill before us relating to substantive divorce as distinct from the money element, there are further urgent reasons to achieve reform of the financial element of divorce. I will set these out, as they underlie my amendment. In brief, there is no point in trying to achieve the aims of the divorce Bill—to make divorce less acrimonious and harmful to children—if the laws relating to the division of money on divorce remain as uncertain, expensive and acrimonious as they are. Research has shown that the quicker the divorce, the less likely the parties are to come to an agreed settlement, and that they will be more likely to settle on financial matters when more time has elapsed. This does not augur well for consensus in the proposed new law.

Twenty-six weeks is a brutally short period, after which one can well imagine that the unsuspecting spouse is still in the house, reeling with shock, utterly without plans about where to live or how to manage in the future, and without legal advice. The time taken to reach financial settlement is often far longer than the divorce itself, and even more prolonged if the couple cannot agree and must go before a judge. Financial orders can take years, as we read recently in the media about the highest in the land. It is not advisable to apply for the decree absolute, or final divorce order, until the finances are settled, as there may be tax disadvantages if there is a considerable gap between the end of the marriage and the consequential financial transfers.

As explained to me by that experienced noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, the court can adjudicate capital only when a conditional decree—what we used to call the decree nisi—has been obtained. The Bill enables a conditional decree to be obtained faster, but disengagement from marriage can occur only when finances are sorted. Thus the acceleration of the decree is valuable only if the law relating to finance is overhauled, and that too can provide some certainty.

Moreover, if a spouse is not satisfied with the financial settlement on offer at the time of a conditional decree, he or she may apply for the final divorce to be postponed. This is provided for in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and carried over into the Bill, paragraph 10 of the Schedule to which says that

“the court hearing an application by the respondent … must not make the divorce order final unless it is satisfied” that there should be no

“financial provision for the respondent, or … that the financial provision”— the offer—

“made by the applicant … is reasonable and fair or the best that can be made in the circumstances.”

Again, the quick divorce may be thwarted by a spouse who is not happy with whatever has been offered and wishes to delay matters.

The reality is that there will be more hardship and uncertainty when dissolution arrives after six months, without time to reach agreement or secure orders relating to housing and money. These issues cannot be ignored. A more ordered, rapid and predictable means of settlement of financial provision might significantly reduce the negative impact of divorce on children, more so than the ground of divorce itself.

The only two countries in Europe which have divorce laws as speedy as ours are set to be Sweden and the Netherlands, with notification being the norm in Sweden. However, their laws about finance are default automatic equal post-marital property division, prenuptial agreements and no ongoing maintenance except in exceptional circumstances. Orders about money and children can be made before the divorce. In the Netherlands, if there is agreement the divorce can be instant; if not, a court appearance is necessary, a parenting plan is required and maintenance is only short-term. Prenups are respected.

One can conclude that the six-month notification process can work without escalating the rate of divorce, but only if there is a fixed and certain property regime, such as in California, Sweden, Scotland, the Netherlands and most of Europe, enabling spouses to know exactly what their entitlement will be even before the dissolution. That is what we need here if no-fault divorce is to live up to its name. Without reform of financial provision, we are undermining the purposes of this Bill.

To that end, I have tabled this amendment requiring the Government to carry out a prompt review of our law on financial provision and to consider a more certain, less costly regime, with priority for children up to 21 and, like Scotland, a statutory basis for prenups, equal division of assets and shorter-term maintenance. The opposition to any reform comes principally from the Bar. I have been talking about this for 40 years and am yet to hear a member of the Bar come forward with a single proposal for reform in this field. I know why; I am sorry to say that there is a section there with a vested interest in keeping the law as uncertain and unpredictable as it is. I get letters from the public only begging for reform whenever I call for it in public. I hope noble Lords will support it.

Photo of Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe Judge 8:30, 3 March 2020

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has spoken so fully and clearly on her amendment that it is difficult to find much to say in support of it without repetition. However, three points are entitled to a bit of expansion or repetition: first, prenuptial agreements; secondly, the extraordinary flexibility—or, one might say, disarray—of the reasons the court has to take into account at present in making a financial provision order under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973; and, thirdly and lastly, the suggestion, which the noble Baroness modestly did not refer to, that her drafting of this amendment shows a degree of favour for her own preferred solution to the very difficult problem of general rules for financial provision.

I will take these points in turn. First, on prenuptial agreements, in the early days of divorce, the notion that an engaged couple might think about and discuss a future divorce was regarded as so shocking that it was ruled in English law as a matter of public policy that a prenuptial agreement was unenforceable. That rule has gradually diminished in importance and has certainly now disappeared, as was confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in the important case of Radmacher v Granatino about 10 years ago. What the Supreme Court did in Radmacher v Granatino was to take account of the premarital agreement, not to enforce it.

The suggestion is—and it is a powerful suggestion—that the courts should now go further and treat any premarital agreement as to the division of property and resources on divorce as being valid and enforceable so long as it was entered into fairly and so long as it was based on full disclosure of assets by each side of the marriage and full access to independent legal advice for each partner to the marriage. The Law Commission has made a very clear recommendation to that effect, which was in striking contrast to its failure to agree any other part of the changes that might usefully be made to financial provision.

Secondly, turning to the court’s discretion under the existing law as to what financial provision to make, there is an extraordinary provision that has been in force for many years. Section 25(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 sets out a confusing list of eight disparate factors with no clear hierarchy or pecking order between them and no clear guidance to first-instance judges as to how they are to take account of these eight disparate factors in ordering financial provisions. Moreover, these eight factors were there long before 1973, since the 1973 Act was, of course, a consolidating Act. It has been very difficult to provide reliable and clear guidance to first-instance judges who have had to deal with these matters, sometimes on inadequate presentation of the facts and considerations in order to do justice.

In the case of White v White, which was decided about 20 years ago, the Law Lords, as they then were —and since then the Supreme Court—did their best to spell out, of the eight disparate factors, some sort of coherent code to be followed. The top court of this country has made heroic efforts to do that, but the result has been, I regret to say, singularly disappointing. It is also necessary to try to relate these factors, which have been part of the law for half a century, to the very different social conditions that we have today.

Surveys and research undertaken by numerous bodies—some working in conjunction with the Law Commission—have shown that there are wide variations in the way the eight factors in Section 25(2) are applied in different parts of the country and by different judges in the same parts of the country. That is not good for the administration of justice. It adds further stress and expense to what is in any event a sufficiently stressful and expensive procedure, especially if one has to take account of the possibility of appeals to higher courts because of the different ways in which the discretion is exercised. By contrast, the new rules for financial provision in Scotland, which are much clearer and which limit much more the extent of judicial discretion, are working well, as a recent survey has revealed.

Thirdly and finally, it has been suggested—I think politely—that the noble Baroness’s amendment is tilted in favour of her own views as to the amendments that should be made to the law. One simple answer to that is that it would be unsurprising if that were so, because she has of course spent a great deal of time thinking about it. However, she has been somewhat modest about the fact that they are not only her own views. The points mentioned specifically in her amendment, including the rule on prenuptial agreements, are not simply her thoughts. She was too modest to mention the fact that they have been embodied in two Bills which passed twice through all stages in this House without a single adverse vote, but which have never passed into law because neither Bill succeeded in finding a sponsor and getting through the House of Commons before the end of the relevant Parliament. Therefore, the matters specified in the amendment reflect the views which have twice been before this House and which have twice been approved by it, without becoming law. I support the amendment and commend it to your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

The provisions of Amendments 7 and 17A clearly relate to an important aspect of matrimonial proceedings; namely, the financial settlement. The amendments seek to ensure that there are no discussions about such financial settlements for 20 weeks unless both parties agree. However, does this not illustrate the need for legal advice to be available to the parties, or at any rate to at least one of the parties, in the situation of a divorce? I understand that attempts were made to amend the Bill in that respect, but it was ruled that it was not possible to do so. However, will the Minister undertake to look again, or to persuade his colleagues in the Government to do so, at the issue of providing legal aid for matrimonial matters, particularly of this kind, where one party may well have insufficient resources to procure the necessary advice in this important area of the consequences of a divorce?

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I very much support Amendment 20, which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, spoke to. Not very long ago, I got a fairly impassioned letter from a gentleman I knew who had recently been involved in a divorce. He said that one of the great difficulties in approaching that, which he found by no means easy, was that it was not easy to find out what was likely to happen in relation to finance, and that it was extremely difficult to guess. The reason for that primarily is that the present structure involves a very large amount of judicial discretion. Those of your Lordships who have had the experience of prophesying how a judge will react will understand the difficulty that you encounter with that kind of thing.

Discretion, as I think Lord Bingham said, is a departure from the rule of law, because the discretion becomes the rule not of law but of the judge’s wisdom or lack of it. I remember the old judge in the Court of Session when I first went there: Lord Carmont. He used to say that if you give a thing to a man’s discretion —he was not thinking of women at that time—you commit it also to his indiscretion. The limit of discretion is quite wide.

I thought about trying to do something about this in 1996, but I concluded that it was too difficult to try to mould it to what I was trying to do then. It is probably right that it should not be attempted as part of this Bill. On the other hand, it is mightily necessary to get on with it and get a framework that can be used in the majority of cases. It is true that some discretion may be required—you do not want the framework to be too rigid—but you want it to be fairly clear that this is the way the thing will work unless there are special reasons requiring the exercise of judicial discretion.

We must get on to this soon. I know that it is difficult; many times have I encountered a situation where, if you have something difficult to do, you put it off until tomorrow. That is not the correct thing to do in this case. It is absolutely essential that this should be dealt with now; I understand that it is likely that such steps are being taken. Let us not be too afraid of it; let us have a good try at it and try to put a framework in position. I know that some people doubt it and wish to exercise their own discretion—it is always good to do that if you are confident in yourself—but it is much better for the people who are the subject of this jurisdiction if they know, and can come to an early conclusion about, what is likely to be the case in their particular situation.

I strongly support the amendment and wish that the Government will get on with it with the greatest possible speed. They are very good at getting things done quickly. They will get very important things done within a year; let us hope that they can get this done in, let us say, six months.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 8:45, 3 March 2020

I rise to speak briefly in support of Amendment 20, to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Shackleton, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Walker, have put their names. From a lay, non-legal perspective, it has much to commend it.

While political parties and Governments hesitate to legislate on family matters, in particular divorce, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 has persisted over the legal landscape of marriage and divorce without being substantially updated by statute for far too long. For example, in recent times, uncertainty around the implementation in law of prenuptial agreements has resulted in bringing misery to many families, adding to the unpleasantness so often experienced at the difficult time of separation.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Shackleton, are to be congratulated on their sustained attempts to bring greater legal certainty to couples through their Private Members’ Bills on financial provision on divorce. Resolution around finance should not be dependent on which judge may be allocated to a case, which even now can predictably lead to wildly differing quantitative outcomes. New Clause 1(c), proposed by Amendment 20, could lead to one party seeking to add financial pressure through the cost burden of legal pursuit and representation, knowing full well that the other party will have to bear a proportion, often a large one, of any litigation.

Although some may argue that a deep examination of each individual situation will bring forward the relative merits of each case and each issue, custom and practice is not a useful or fair guide to society’s changes in family life. It should be a matter for Parliament, not the legal profession. The next legal battle is already developing over cohabitation. The decision to conduct a review of sections of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 under proposed new Clause 1 must be taken by the Government.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for tabling the amendment. I am also grateful to the other signatories to the amendment for sharing their experience and expertise with the Committee, as well as for highlighting the areas for review under the second part of the amendment. It is certainly unfortunate that the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, is unable to be in her place.

I urge the Government to think carefully about this amendment.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I will first address Amendments 7 and 17A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. These would prevent the commencement of financial provision proceedings, except for maintenance pending suit, for 20 or even 12 weeks on his alternative, in the absence of the consent of the other party.

I suggest that these amendments—like earlier amendments that restrict the choice and autonomy of parties to a marriage that has failed—are patronising. As I understand it, they are supposed to allow for periods of reflection. I am all for periods of reflection where they will do any good, but they usually do good if they happen before any divorce proceedings are under way.

There are many cases where, by the time divorce proceedings are commenced, a financial provision application has become urgent. This is particularly so where one partner to a broken marriage has remained in an unhappy marriage or is enduring financial hardship, and even in cases where both parties agree to a divorce, but not to the timing or the form of financial provision. One example is when a home should be sold.

It is very important not to hold up financial provision applications on a blanket basis, given that parties frequently stay together long after their marriages have in reality failed, either because they have to live together in one home for financial reasons, or because they decide to stay together for the sake of their children. Why should parties in their position then be made to wait further for financial relief, when delay may cause considerable hardship and unhappiness?

There is, of course, no compulsion on a party to commence financial provision proceedings immediately. I suggest that the timing should remain within the choice of the parties and—where there are such—their advisers.

There are many other cases where, by the time the proceedings are commenced, the parties are living apart. One spouse may be with someone else. Generally speaking, such parties know of the issues between them relating to financial provision before proceedings are brought.

Take for example a currently well-known case. It would be appallingly high-handed to tell a practicing QC, married to a prominent figure—who was very publicly living with someone else, whom he had committed to marry and who was expecting his child—that she would have to delay for 20 weeks before taking steps to secure financial provision in divorce proceedings without his agreement.

There is no good reason to debar financial proceedings once divorce proceedings are under way, so I oppose these amendments.

On Amendment 20, which calls for the review to which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has spoken so eloquently, I agree that a review of the law on financial provision is desirable. However, I do not think that the statutory requirement for such a review sits comfortably within this legislation, which is, and should be, limited to removing fault from the divorce process.

I take the view, eloquently expressed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that the process of divorce ought generally to be kept separate from issues of financial provision. I would be happier for the Minister to commit to commissioning, in the near future, a wide-ranging consultation with a review of financial provision on divorce, with a view to updating an area of law that has become, for many, out of date and out of step with modern social mores.

I find in the terms of the noble Baroness’s amendment, borne out in her speech, and discerned and spoken to by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Walker and Lord Mackay, an element of prejudgment of what should come out of such a review. I am not sure that picking out the desirability of importing something like the Scottish provisions, the term of periodical payments and the enforceability of prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, into what should be a wide-ranging and full review is the best path to conducting it.

I do not share the noble Baroness’s cynicism about the Bar, my profession, nor her view that no barristers support reform of the law in this area. Indeed, I support reform of the law in this area, in many ways on the same basis that she does. I certainly support her view that the law on financial provision is too complex and expensive. I endorse her view and that expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that there is scope for some kind of a framework or model for use in the generality of cases.

However, there is room for discussion on the extent of judicial discretion, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out. On the term of maintenance payments, I am particularly concerned about the position of older applicants or those in ill health who would normally expect and be entitled to long-term provision. Cutting maintenance off in the short term might be a bad idea.

While I support the idea of a general review of financial provision, I hope the Bill will not be amended to incorporate a statutory requirement in the terms of the noble Baroness’s amendment—but I would welcome a commitment from the Minister to carry out a consultation and review.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, I begin with Amendments 7 and 17A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, which seek to allow one party to block applications for financial provision on divorce throughout all the new 20-week minimum period referred to in the Bill. That is an entirely new restriction for which we have seen no justifying evidence. Nor do we know the potential financial impact it could have on people’s lives. These amendments would still allow financial applications by agreement of the other party, of course, and would also allow applications for maintenance pending suit, but financial orders are not there just for one or the other party to the marriage. They are also there to make sure that, for example, the children’s needs can be met. I appreciate that applications for financial provision in respect of children can be made at any time under Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989, but we hardly want to promote a solution that pushes people towards yet a further set of legal proceedings.

There is no reason to delay applying for an order that in most cases can come into effect only when the divorce order is made final. Of course, the financial adjustment between the parties has to be made at some stage, but it is in no one’s interests to restrict when an application can be put in train. Indeed, it is worth noting that only once an application has been made can the court direct the parties to undertake full and frank disclosure of their assets and liabilities. Furthermore, these amendments could have the rather perverse effect of allowing one party to effectively coerce or control the other by frustrating attempts to secure a financial settlement and essentially to use that as a delaying tactic.

We are not in favour of this amendment at all. The Bill seeks to set out a very clear revised process for divorce within the existing legal framework. That is what we are anxious to implement, without being diverted by additional qualifications or controls.

I turn to Amendment 20 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. As I said at Second Reading, the Government are considering how to approach any reform of the law with regard to financial settlement. My officials on this Bill are already at work on how best to take this forward. Drawing on that, it will be necessary to essentially lay the parameters for a review that will require, among other things, knowledge and expertise from outside government, to build an evidence base and to assess the problems that the present situation creates.

I hear what is said about the wide diversity of awards that can be made under the existing law, and the potential benefits of embracing a system such as that reflected in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 1985 as a solution, but it is not a case simply of abandoning the present process of financial provision in the law of England and Wales and embracing that of another jurisdiction. There will be a great deal more than that to do. Therefore, to set a fixed period for review is not, I suspect, helpful, because we are going to have to produce very robust recommendations and proposals that will pass in this House and the other place, and that will require detailed consideration and detailed evidence. I cannot say that such a process would be concluded within a year.

At this stage I do not suggest that the Government will embrace the sort of solution reflected in the Scottish legislation. It may have been relatively successful there, but there are issues that arise in that context and which will arise when we come to address prenuptial agreements, and assets acquired before the marriage, and there will be a diversity of views on that.

We consider this Bill a necessary first step to reducing conflict in marriage and divorce. We consider it appropriate to commence, when we can, a review regarding financial provision upon divorce. I hear what has been said across the House about the scope for such a review, but setting the parameters of a review before assessing what needs to be done is not the way forward. At this stage, in light of the commitment I have sought to give the House about commencing a consideration of a review, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 9:00, 3 March 2020

Can the Minister respond to my request for the Government to look again at the issue of legal aid in matrimonial cases?

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

The matter of legal aid is not within the scope of the Bill, and it is not the present intention to address it.

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I am saddened that mine was not welcomed more than it was, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

I have not withdrawn Amendment 20 yet.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

For the convenience of the House, when the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness is called, she may then have the opportunity to speak to it.

Amendments 8 and 9 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.