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The Lord Chancellor: The intention behind the Bill was to leave open the options to the parties for as long as possible. We are attempting to produce a situation in which every possible option remains open to the parties in the hope that, instead of going ahead to any order, they may be able to repair their marriage. For that reason we do not require them to specify in the original document what it is that ultimately they may want. As I said, the fervent hope is that they may not want anything at all and that the follow-up will not occur.
In moving the amendment, the noble and learned Lord indicated that, if the amendment is accepted, there may need to be scope for allowing an amendment to the original statement. If the philosophy behind the amendment is accepted, that would not be required: the matter would be left open. If that was so, the parties would know that either a divorce order or a separation order would be competent in the end, if matters went that far, but that they may not. So far as concerns the consequences in relation to the parties, they would have to decide that certainly by the time they came to apply for a final order. But this matter might well be raised in discussions between them in the period in question. That is the reasoning on which we have not required that they should specify which of the two ultimate orders they might seek.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful for that guidance from the noble and learned Lord. I cannot say that I am wholly persuaded. One can envisage a situation where, if the party filing the statement says,"I am asking for a judicial separation", the other party may say, "I agree that there has been irretrievable breakdown. I won't put any unnecessary obstacles in the way"; whereas if there were a possibility that there might be an application for divorce, that partner might take a very different view.
The Lord Chancellor: It occurred to me as the noble and learned Lord was speaking that we might be able to have a middle course in which it was open to the parties to specify. At the moment it is not intended that
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they should specify at all. It may be that it would be right to leave it open to them to specify without requiring them to do so. That option might be worth considering.
Baroness Elles: I am very interested in what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said and in what my noble and learned friend has now said. Surely it would be quite useful to have some kind of middle wayfor instance, in the case of those who are Catholic who do not have divorce but would want a separationso that there is the possibility of one or the other being inserted in the Bill in order to open up one or two of these matters which could cause a difficulty for the acceptance of such a statement.
The Lord Chancellor: For my part, I am rather attracted to that as a possibility. Certainly, if a person were forced to say in advance, it might be that it would be difficult for them. On the other hand, if a difficulty of this kind is envisaged, one of the parties might be quite willing to try to assuage that difficulty by indicating from the outset he or she was interested only in a separation. That is certainly a possible middle way which the noble and learned Lord might contemplate.
I do not have very strong views about this. The general philosophy I have tried to follow is to keep every possible option open for as long as possible in the hope that ultimately none of them would be taken up.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I am grateful for both of those interventions. I can see the merits in the middle way and it might be something on which we could all reflect. I do not think this is the occasion to be dogmatic in any of these matters. If there really is a prospect that by keeping open the options the party filing the statement may ultimately decide not to take up any of them, that must clearly be a bonus. In that state of the argument, and for the purpose of further reflection, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 33. It is also grouped with Amendment No. 34 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and with three further amendments of mine, Amendments Nos. 36, 37 and 38, although I hasten to say that I recognise that the last three are almost certainly otiose if Clause 6 is not to stand part of the Bill. In any event, the point is the same as the one I seek to make in Amendments Nos. 30, 31, 32 and 33.
I should also mention that there is a mistake in Amendment No. 30. The word I seek to insert is "Where" rather than "Whether". I do not know where the mistake crept in. I suspect that it was my fault, for which I must apologise.
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I should also indicate very simply that these are simply drafting amendments and an attempt to dispense with subsection(3) of Clause 5 by combining the two subsections together. As it stands, there is a provision in Clause 5(2) for the way in which the statement made by one party is to be constituted. In subsection (3) there is a provision dealing with a statement made by both parties. I wonder why that is necessary. I suggest that it would be simpler to combine the provisions into one subsection as my amendments seek to achieve. The result would be that the first line of Clause 5(2) would read:
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I believe that Amendment No. 34 is grouped with this amendment. In speaking to it I venture first to protest as strongly as I can that on a Bill of this kind the Committee should be kept sitting well past half-past ten. This is probably the most important Bill of the Session, if not the most important of this Parliament. When we debated the Rippon Report on the sittings of the House, we were promised that we would not be kept very late at night. It is really a parliamentary indecency to be discussing a Bill of this sort at this hour. There is nobody on the Back Benches of the official Opposition and as far as I can see there is nobody on the Back Benches of the Liberal Democrats. Although there is a sprinkling of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, the House is by no means representative. We have only one right reverend Prelate still present.
Paragraph (b) is no longer relevant. It refers to an earlier amendment which I moved and did not press to a Division. It seems to me that a statement should contain information about the children. I should have thought that that would be needed by anybody attempting reconciliation, certainly by a mediator, and by the court if the matter has to go to adjudication. After I have heard my noble and learned friend and Amendment No. 34 is called I shall consider whether to move the amendment formally.
The Lord Chancellor: There are some government amendments in this group. As we received it, the drafting amendment appeared to have a different effect from that which the noble Lord intended. It might therefore be a waste of time for me to say what we thought about it as we understood it.
Turning to paragraph (a) of the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon, I would expect the rules to contain a requirement in relation to the relevant children and possibly more detail about their circumstances than would be appropriate on the face of the Bill. I hope that my noble and learned friend will accept my assurance that the regulations about the form of statement will
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include such information, with possibly more detail about the relevant circumstances than is normal on the face of a Bill.
I speak now to Amendments Nos. 160 and 161 which seek to clarify the drafting. The word "or" at the end of Clause 17(3)(a) should not be there, while the provision to the effect that marital proceedings are both divorce proceedings and separation proceedings at a time when no application for an order has been made was not included, although it appeared in the earlier printing. There was an error on the final print, which is why I need to correct it now.
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