Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 View all Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 2-I(Rev) Revised marshalled list for Committee - (2 Mar 2020)
Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, when the Government consulted in 2018 on the Bill’s proposals, a number of headlines suggested that we were introducing quickie divorces; indeed, in some quarters, that misapprehension may linger. However, in a sense, we are putting an end to them. Under our reform Act, applicants cannot apply for a conditional order until at least 20 weeks have passed from the start of the divorce proceedings, along with the current six weeks between conditional and final orders, and that is a minimum period. Of course, progression from one stage to the next will never be automatic.

Applications for divorce are increasingly made online and the Government’s updated impact assessment, which was published last April, projected that, under these reforms, on average we would be adding between nine and 10 weeks to the divorce process based on the expected impact of full implementation of online divorce. So we are certainly not reducing the overall time for the average divorce. Indeed, at present rather more than 80% of divorces take place sooner than the timescale set out in the Bill.

I acknowledge that there is no magic number as far as this timing is concerned. A single divorce law must work for everyone and, in introducing the new minimum period before conditional order, we have carefully considered what period would most effectively help applicants consider the implications of divorce and allow couples to reach an agreement on practical matters without unduly lengthening the process. That is the purpose of the minimum period. It is certainly not intended to be punitive in any way.

The question then arises: why six months overall rather than a year or even a month? The Government have reflected on the different views put forward during the consultation and, at that time, some key organisations broadly supported six months as a reasonable period to meet the emotional and practical needs of divorcing couples. However, they also noted that there could be problems if that period was longer. Indeed, a period substantially longer than at present could unduly delay necessary financial arrangements, for example, and it would be particularly unhelpful if a couple had already been separated for a long period of time before the application is made. We therefore made the judgment that six months strikes an appropriate balance that allows a better opportunity for parties to adjust and a reasonable period for them to consider the implications of the step that they are taking.

As I say, there is no magic number. It is a case of exercising judgment and we consider that the period of 20 weeks, together with the six-week period, is appropriate in the circumstances, and we would not propose to extend that period by way of amendment to the Bill. In these circumstances, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern
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My Lords, of course it is a matter of judgment. I had to do the judgment some time ago. The other angle which has to be taken into account is that when the divorce proceedings are finished, parties are apt to lose interest in their responsibilities under the marriage that has been terminated. I have seen that as a matter of fact from time to time. For example, fathers who desert find it very difficult to remember to pay the necessary support money to the deserted lady. That kind of thing can be made worse if the divorce has been completed before all the financial matters have been settled. However, I agree that this is a matter of judgment, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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To reiterate, the respondent is almost deemed the one at fault. Again, this pushes our laws towards the hard cases where there is abuse, rather than finding ways to ensure greater fairness for all those applying for divorce. Other statutes deal with domestic violence. The standard practice is that the court initially serves the application on the respondent, meaning that there should be no delay, provided that contact details are correct. However, who provides the contact details? Often, it is the applicant. Surely a new process can be developed—for example, through email, recorded delivery or whatever—to prove that the respondent has been served with the application. The 20-week period starting on application is defended on the ground of simplicity. However, as with so many elements—and omitted elements—to this Bill, in its simplicity lies its harshness.
Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, as I believe I indicated previously, we accept that we should address the service issue in the context of the Bill. Therefore, I can advise the Committee that my right honourable and learned friend the Lord Chancellor raised this issue with the President of the Family Division last week. The Family Procedure Rule Committee will be invited to consider the matter when reviewing the rules required to implement the Bill, including a rule requiring service of the application within a specific period following the issue of proceedings.

The rule committee has a statutory duty to consider whether to consult on rule changes. I hope it will decide to do so in order that wider scrutiny can be given to any proposals for achieving timely service. I also hope that through the increasing use of an online divorce service many respondents will be served quickly and efficiently by email, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, suggested. However, I am clear that the provisions in the Bill will need to work for the many cases that, at least in the short term, will continue to be dealt with through paper applications to the court.

Amendments 5 and 15 seek to provide in the Bill different definitions for the start of proceedings in respect of joint and sole applications. For sole applications, the practical effect will be to define the starting point for the 20-week period as the date on which notice of the proceedings is served on the respondent party. However, that will create the potential for new disputes as to when notice is served or received. The only certain way to evidence this is through an acknowledgement of service, if one is returned by the respondent. Such an approach risks handing too much power to a respondent party who wishes to frustrate the divorce proceedings by avoiding or disputing service or delaying the entire process.

Resolution, the leading body in England and Wales, representing over 6,000 family justice professionals, has identified this as the greater mischief. Its concerns are underpinned by evidence. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to the work of Professor Liz Trinder. In her study, she found that no acknowledgement of service was returned by the respondent in a sample number of cases representing 13.7% of the total. That was only a sample, but it would amount to about 14,000 cases annually if extrapolated nationally. In the majority of cases where there was no return in the sample, this appeared to reflect a decision of the respondent not to co-operate with the process, whether they were opposed to the divorce in principle or simply wanted to make the process difficult for the petitioner.

The amendment creates new potential for mischief from a respondent who is not co-operative. The Government are concerned to avoid introducing new opportunities into the revised legal process for divorce for a perpetrator of, for example, domestic abuse to exercise coercive or controlling behaviour. It is a question of achieving the right balance. We consider that the right way to achieve this is by working with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to address the issue.

I shall deal with the entirety of the group of amendments beginning with Amendment 8, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and consisting also of Amendments 9, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 18. I thank the noble Lord for his consideration of this issue and our discussion of it. Amendments 8, 11 and 17 would amend the Bill to insert a new delegated power into Section 1 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and a new Section 37A into the Civil Partnership Act to enable the Lord Chancellor to make provision by order to set out a further minimum period within which a sole applicant must effect service of notice. Amendments 9, 13 and 18 would make that power subject to the negative resolution procedure and Amendment 12 would apply in judicial separation cases.

These amendments would add to the Bill further delegated powers that are simply not needed. We consider that the best way to achieve resolution of the service issue is to work with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to address the rules around service. The provisions of the Courts Act 2003 already provide a power for the Family Procedure Rule Committee to make rules of court regulating matters governing the practice and procedure to be followed in family proceedings, including the requirements for service. I am quite happy today to give a commitment that we will work with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to address these concerns over service. They already have the relevant statutory powers to address this. In these circumstances, understanding that these were put forward as probing amendments, I invite noble Lords not to press them.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanations. I am to some degree heartened by him wanting new advice to be gained from the rule committee. In this instance, we wish him well and hope we can come to a sound agreement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 6, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I apologise to the noble Baroness that I did not get a chance to have a chat with her before this evening, as I had originally added my name to the amendment. As the noble Baroness explained, the Bill as it stands proposes minimum periods of 20 weeks and six weeks for the two stages of divorce and dissolution proceedings. I thank the Minister for the very helpful meeting we had last Wednesday, where he clarified that a statutory instrument to shorten the period for divorces would indeed be subject to the affirmative procedure. The question has been whether there is any reason at all why the Lord Chancellor should be given a Henry VIII power to reduce the length of either of the two periods through delegated legislation.

The Bill is very clear that, in a particular case, an application may be made to the court to shorten the period for the proceedings. For example, if one of the partners is dying and wants to sort out their affairs before they die, it would of course be perfectly reasonable for them to make an application to the court to reduce the period required. Also, if there is a need to protect an abused spouse, time may be of the essence. However, to shorten the minimum period for divorce or dissolution in all cases is quite another matter. We have to think about that.

The then Minister for Justice, Paul Maynard MP, emphasised in the Commons Public Bill Committee on 2 July 2019:

“The 20 week period is a key element in a reformed legal process.”

There is currently no minimum period, and with respect to the second stage, the Minister said that part of the objective was

“to improve the financial arrangements. People may wish to delay a little longer until such a point. It is not a maximum period; it is a minimum, and the process might well take longer.”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 2/7/19; col.35.]

As the Minister knows, I expressed my concern at Second Reading about a future Lord Chancellor having the power to allow for a more rushed process, without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Certainly, the decision to apply the affirmative procedure to any statutory instrument reducing the time period is, in my view, an important improvement. The Government argued in a memorandum that the Lord Chancellor

“will be able to make adjustments to the time periods, for example, if policy considerations meant that it would be appropriate to shorten one or both of the time periods.”

I do not want to be difficult, but when I asked the Minister during his presentation to the Cross-Bench meeting what policy considerations might justify reducing the timeframe for divorces in a general sense, neither he nor the civil servants present could provide an answer. However, during the meeting last Wednesday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, came—probably quite inadvertently—to the rescue and suggested a justification for the use of this power. The noble and learned Lord suggested that if, for example, there were repeated applications to the court to reduce the length of time from 26 weeks, then a more general reduction in the minimum period would be helpful. Repeated applications to the court are unhelpful to the people immediately affected; I imagine there are delays and all sorts of things, including perhaps costs.

This sounds a very sensible justification for the Henry VIII power. The concern of the Delegated Powers Committee, on which I sit, had been that Ministers at that point had offered no rationale for the Henry VIII power. Now, thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, to whom I must give due credit, we have such a rationale, as well as confirmation from the Minister that the affirmative procedure would be applicable. I am therefore personally satisfied that this matter has been acceptably resolved—I had intended to say “satisfactorily resolved”, but it has certainly at least been acceptably resolved. However, I must emphasise that I am not, of course, speaking for the Delegated Powers Committee as a whole; I am speaking purely as one member.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, under the procedures set out in this new Bill, something like 80% of divorces will now take longer than they otherwise would have done. Having regard to that, it is considered prudent that the Lord Chancellor should have the opportunity as matters develop to be able to adjust the timeframes under which provision is made for divorce in this Bill. What I refer to are future, unforeseen policy considerations, which might indicate that it is appropriate to shorten the length. As was observed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, cited, as an example, a situation in which there were a multitude of applications to reduce the timeframe and it was felt that this directed us towards a conclusion that there should be an overall reduction in the timeframe, because it was creating particular difficulties. That is why these powers exist.

There are essentially there of them: one in respect of divorce, one in respect of partnership and one in respect of nullity of marriage. As the Bill was drafted, these statutory instruments would have been subject to the negative procedure, but, as I indicated during meetings with a number of noble Lords, it is our intention to amend that and to apply the affirmative procedure in order that Parliament may have oversight of any such proposed step. In these circumstances, and with that undertaking to amend before Report stage of the Bill, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames
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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.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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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.

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

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

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer
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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.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote Portrait Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB)
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My Lords, the modest but important point of this amendment would be to permit a spouse who does not want to divorce to have that fact placed on the public record. As I explained at Second Reading, I am concerned that this Bill facilitates a significant shift in power from the respondent to the petitioner, without proper regard either for the best interests of the respondent or any children involved.

This Bill as defined is a petitioner’s charter. Under it, the departing spouse will be able to apply for divorce without citing any reason and will get their divorce in six months. The other party to the marriage will not be able to do anything about it. They will find themselves on a high-speed conveyor belt to divorce with no way of slowing it down, no opportunity to contest, no way to seek justice and not even a reasonable period to prepare themselves for life after the marriage ends.

New subsection (3) in Clause 1 makes it clear that the court cannot seek to examine or verify the departing spouse’s assertion that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The other spouse may think it is retrievable —and may be right—but under the Bill their option must be ignored completely by the court. Like many couples who contemplate divorce, the right kind of counselling advice may get them through their current difficulties and they might emerge with their relationship strengthened and their understanding deepened.

I suspect many noble Lords will know of those who have experienced such times, but this Bill totally disempowers spouses trying to save their marriages. For some in such circumstances—perhaps for reasons of faith or other personal reasons—being able to record that it was not they but their spouse who sought divorce will be important mentally, emotionally and perhaps even spiritually, but the Bill allows no recognition that it was their spouse who walked away, no acknowledgement of the wrong the innocent party has suffered.

A fundamentally different approach to the respondent is required and I hope that the Government will register the concerns that I have set out today and at Second Reading in this regard. I do not really regard this modest amendment as a satisfactory solution to the problem but it is a way of drawing attention to it. People in such a situation should at least be able to have a line on the divorce order to say that they did not consent to the divorce. If you are stripping people of the right to contest a divorce or get the justice of their situation recognised, this is the least we can do. I beg to move.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, the Bill introduces the new option of both parties to a marriage making a joint application for divorce, which will allow them to approach divorce on the basis of a mutually agreed decision to bring a legal end to their marriage.

Consent in the context of divorce is a sensitive issue and I appreciate that it is unfortunate when one party does not wish to become divorced. The changes within this Bill rightly recognise that marriage is a voluntary union of two people who both wish to be with each other and it is therefore a marriage, not a divorce, that requires consent. The current court decree made under the existing law does not record whether or not the divorce has been contested, and the present concern may proceed upon a misapprehension that being a respondent to a divorce means accepting the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. That is not the case. The existing legal process seeks to determine only that a decree of divorce can be granted following the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

The law itself does not—indeed cannot—say who, if anyone, was to blame for that breakdown. It would not be helpful to allow the respondent to come forward in circumstances where they were content to be divorced but wanted to make clear their views about the cause of the breakdown. That would not assist. Indeed, it could provide the foundation for greater disharmony than would otherwise be the case if we were to maintain the present provisions of the Bill.

Giving a married couple the choice to make a joint application strikes the appropriate balance in these circumstances, and I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote Portrait Baroness Howe of Idlicote
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. It is a probing amendment and has afforded me an opportunity to make an important point about speaking up for the respondent. I will reflect on the Minister’s response but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, I begin with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Farmer. The requirement sought within the amendment to report annually on the number of divorce applications is unnecessary, as this data is already publicly available and published in the Family Court Statistics Quarterly.

The amendment also seeks a requirement to gather data on the sex of applicants for divorce. This is also unnecessary, as official statistics already break down the number of divorces per year by the gender of the applicant. In addition, the amendment seeks a requirement to collect data on the income of applicants. However, such data would be unduly onerous for the courts service to collect and, more so, unduly intrusive for the applicants to supply.

The amendment also seeks a requirement to report on the number of divorcing couples who seek relationship counselling during the divorce process alongside relevant demographic information. Such information could not be provided without forcing divorcing couples to declare it, thus introducing an unnecessary burden at what is already a difficult time for them. The choice to seek such counselling during the divorce process would be a personal one for those involved.

In summary, as much of the information referenced in this amendment is already publicly available, the requirement to report on it would be unnecessary. As regards the other kinds of information referenced by the amendment, they would be not only onerous to collect but raise very real issues around what is appropriate from the point of view of demand placed upon applicants for the divorce process. I therefore respectfully invite the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment.

I turn to Amendment 19A. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, is persuaded that marriage brings many social benefits. The Government agree. However, if a marriage is broken down irretrievably, there is no virtue for the family involved or society at large in it continuing. This amendment would mandate an annual report to Parliament, which I presume the noble Lord, Lord McColl, intends to complement the data sought by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in Amendment 19. However, it is not clear how the survey would operate or exactly what it would seek to demonstrate beyond, perhaps, interest in the married couple’s allowance.

Divorce is something in which society rightly takes an interest, but it is also a deeply personal and often distressing matter for the individuals involved. While I respect the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in proposing that participation in his survey would be voluntary and anonymous, the Government believe that such an invitation would be unnecessarily intrusive in any event. At worst, many of those questioned might feel that they were being asked to justify the state of the ending of the marriage, which strikes against the whole intention of the reform, for which it would appear to me that wide support has already been demonstrated in the House.

There is also an issue of the point at which the survey would be conducted. People’s perceptions of the divorce process will change between the time that they make an application and secure the divorce—or some time after, when they have gone through the process and been able to address it with the benefit of hindsight. The Government believe that this amendment would reintroduce an element of conflict into the divorce process. It would certainly be intrusive for those engaged in the divorce application. In these circumstances, we would not be prepared to accept it, so I invite the noble Lord not to press it.

Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer
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My Lords, I am again saddened at the response from my noble friend the Minister. I may have misunderstood something but, to my knowledge, my amendment did not seek to find out any financial information. This report was to be put before Parliament so that it could respond to this Bill—the unilateral or no-fault divorce Bill—when it becomes law.

It is quite a big Bill on marriage to come through Parliament and become law. It is very important to me that Parliament can respond to the response to the Bill shown in marriages. How many people are getting divorced? Is it more? How many children are involved? What sort of support services are involved? Is there marriage counselling? There are all those things. It is important for both Houses of Parliament to look back and say, “Is this good? Is it working as we intended?” I am sure that my noble friend the Minister is right that this information is available here, there and everywhere. However, we want it brought back to us in one body related to this Bill.

Therefore, I am saddened at that response. Obviously, I will go no further on this occasion but this may come back on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.