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Earl Russell: I want to say only that I am happy to support Amendment No. 188. I share the pleasure of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, that on this occasion we are on the same side. The point he made about the difficulty of reaching negative instruments in another place is a serious one, especially if it is only my party which wishes to challenge them.

The Lord Chancellor: It gives me considerable pleasure on this occasion to find myself marching also in the same direction as my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I tried to hint at that in the passage he summarised; I make it express now. I agree with his amendment in principle and shall bring forward an amendment on Report to give effect to it.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: There is nothing to be said to that except to offer an expression of profound gratitude. I am obliged to my noble and learned friend. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 189 not moved.]

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 189A:

Page 37, line 3, at end insert--
("( ) Part I of this Act, other than section 8 and paragraph (b) of section 2(1), shall come into force on 1st January 1997.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 189A seeks to probe a little further as to why my noble and learned friend feels that the substantive changes to the law of divorce should be deferred until the completion of the pilot projects and also as to when he considers the pilot projects will be completed. Its effect would be to provide that, with the exception of the information-providing sessions, the substantive reform of the divorce law--that is to say, the statement of marital breakdown, the year for reflection and consideration and the completion of the arrangements for the future before the making of the divorce order--shall be brought into effect before completion of the pilot projects.

At Second Reading, I asked my noble and learned friend a question in these terms:

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    "I wonder whether my noble and learned friend has decided, and can tell the House, when he anticipates that the provisions for no-fault divorce and the year for reflection which are central to the Bill will be brought into force. Will it be one year, two years or three years?"--[Official Report, 30/11/95; col. 724.]

My noble and learned friend kindly replied to me by letter on 19th December, as follows,

    "You referred to the pilot study which I plan to set up to monitor and test the new proposals before full implementation. I consider this necessary because some aspects of the proposals are untried in this country, such as the information sessions, and a number of options are possible for delivery of mediation services. The pilot study will also enable the Legal Aid Board to develop and test standards of quality assurance and monitoring of these. We are still at a very early stage of planning for all aspects of the pilot study. It is therefore not possible at this stage for me to give you any indication of when I would envisage the new proposals coming into force".

I turn to the debate initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, on 22nd January of this year. That debate related specifically to the information sessions. On that day, at col. 832, the noble and learned Lord asked my noble and learned friend whether the operation of the Bill was to be postponed until the pilot schemes had operated and the results were known. At col. 837 my noble and learned friend replied:

    "My present view is that the Bill, with its new provisions, should not come into force until the pilots are concluded. Obviously I am open to persuasion as the Bill proceeds, but the information session is so fundamental to the whole idea that it is wise to have it in place, with the proper regulations, before the grounds of divorce set out in the Bill become effective law."

Later, at col. 839, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, expressed relief to hear that at that moment it was not my noble and learned friend's view that the Bill should be brought into full force before the completion of the pilot schemes. He asked my noble and learned friend how long that was likely to be. In the same column, the reply of my noble and learned friend was:

    "I believe that something in the order of two years is reasonable for testing out the information-giving methods which we wish to use."

My noble and learned friend did not reply as to the completion of the pilot project on the provision of mediation services. Perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend whether he now has any better advice as to when he expects to complete the full pilot project process. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, drew attention to the fact that,

    "As a lawyer--and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will understand my thinking--I am always reluctant to legislate by having a statute in limbo for too long a period of time."

In the best of all possible worlds one would wish to have the information-providing service and the full mediation provisions in the Bill before it was implemented. But in this case we are dealing with the replacement of what is, we are all agreed, bad law with what is, we are all agreed, better law. In those circumstances, I should have thought that there was a strong case for bringing the substantive changes into effect sooner rather than later, not letting them hang in limbo. I believe that the completion of the pilot project would be more easily and satisfactorily effected if the new law were in force, especially in regard to mediation. It might be very

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difficult to do justice to the mediation services in the pilot project in the context of the existing quickie divorces. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Earl Russell: The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, produces an argument which at first is extremely seductive. He says that good law is to replace bad law and therefore it should be introduced as soon as possible. That argument must have force. On the other hand, I do not believe we always realise how much work is involved in the introduction of a major Bill. I refer to the amount of reorganisation, redeployment, testing and consideration of cases which must take place. I and my noble and honourable friends spend a great deal of time calling for the Government to take a little longer over the implementation of projects. In the light of that, I believe that I should be guilty of inconsistency if I supported this amendment, though I see its attractions.

The noble and learned Lord knows that, though I am sympathetic to many of the basic principles of the Bill, I have anxieties about the process of mediation, which will be engaged in very sensitive areas and will need to be done very carefully. The fact that he has provided these pilot studies goes a long way to alleviate that anxiety. I am very glad that he has done it and rather hope that he will not change it.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: Let me first apologise to the Committee because I was not in my place at the outset of these debates. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, said, that I was in two minds about this matter in the earlier debate. On the one hand, I was relieved to hear that it was not proposed to implement the provisions of the Bill until the pilot schemes had been completed. On the other hand, I expressed some hesitation about the idea of a statute operating in limbo. I must say that I am persuaded by the argument just enunciated by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. This is an important matter and it is important to get it right before it is let loose on the public.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, a few moments ago that it might, in a sense, be easier to carry out one of the pilot schemes if there were a substantive law in place on which it could bite. But it seems to me that, on balance, that might be a dangerous way of doing it. To have a substantive law in place and try to make it work before it has been possible to see the results of the scheme and assess them on the whole might endanger the whole scheme and bring the law into disrepute. So, for what it is worth, I take the view that, on balance, it would be better not to implement the substantive law until the pilot schemes have been assessed.

The Lord Chancellor: This is an important question. I am certainly entirely in favour of bringing this legislation, assuming that it reaches the statute book, into force as soon as reasonably possible. But it is important to make the necessary preparations. My experience in relation to the Children Act confirms that that is a good viewpoint. The Children Act was on the statute book for something like two years before it was

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implemented. That period was not spent in idleness, as those noble Lords who work in this field know. We did a lot of work. Various departments--the Department of Health, my department and the Judicial Studies Board, as well as local authorities and so on--had to engage in detailed preparation. The Act was all the better for that detailed preparation in its ultimate working.

I regard it as vitally important that the information session should be in place and working. The interval between getting the information and starting the divorce process is an integral part of what I should like to see. I want to be as sure as I can that the arrangements for information sessions are as good as we can make them before I have brought into effect the substantive provisions.

The mediation provisions are somewhat different in the sense that, as my noble friend said, it is much easier to envisage mediation against the background of the new law than against the background of the present law. That is an important point. On the other hand, I want to be sure that mediation provisions are reasonably well in place. On the best view that I can take at the moment of what is likely to happen, the kind of estimate that I gave in answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, is the best that I can give. My noble friend can be assured that I would wish to bring the statute into operation as soon as is reasonably possible. But I believe that at least the information sessions and a good deal of the arrangements in relation to mediation should be in position before that happens, for the reasons that I sought to explain.

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