23 Baroness Meacher debates involving the Scotland Office

Mon 12th Feb 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one
Wed 28th Jun 2023
Tue 11th Oct 2022
Thu 10th Feb 2022
Nationality and Borders Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard)
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued)
Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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I am interested that the noble Baroness for the Liberal Democrats is so keen to avoid debate but, for the avoidance of doubt, I have not repeated any points I previously raised.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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We do not make Second Reading speeches on Report.

Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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I take on board the noble Baroness’s view, but I am not making a Second Reading speech. I am speaking specifically about these amendments.

Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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I thank the Whip for that guidance. If I can proceed to conclude my remarks—

Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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However much the noble Baroness heckles from a sedentary position, I will not sit down and I will finish my speech. Rule 39 interim measures, as we learned in Committee, were not in any meaningful sense court rulings per se and, more specifically, great British statesmen and jurists such as David Maxwell Fyfe, who has been quoted, and Winston Churchill never signed up to the court taking powers upon itself to make binding injunctions. This is at the very heart of these amendments. Indeed, it was debated and specifically rejected in terms. It is only since 2005, when activist judges were acting in the case of Mamatkulov and Askarov v Turkey, that the court has given itself a power ultra vires to the original convention—an important point enunciated previously by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friend Lord Sandhurst.

The clause that amendments today seek to strike down, eviscerate and render otiose is not an example of arbitrary power but a specific power for this Bill and a set of unprecedented geopolitical and economic circumstances: mass migration. It is not a blanket disregard but a specific power. In summary, Rule 39 rules were never part of the European convention or constitution and there is no evidence, other than the hyperbole in this Chamber, that the UK not being bound by these interim measures undermines our overall compliance with international law and our international obligations, responsibilities or undertakings. The irony of these amendments is that they lock in the UK to adherence to a regime that even the court itself accepts is suboptimal and needs urgent reform. These amendments offer a carte blanche to a broken system.

The court itself does not work in its efficacy and the power to produce a desired result, with 48% of leading judgments being unaltered and not acted upon in the past 10 years across all 46 members of the convention. We have a failing, politicised, secret and unreformed court that some noble Lords wish to legislate to usurp the sovereignty of our Parliament. For these and other reasons, I ask your Lordships to resist these amendments because they are not only consequential but dangerous.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I want to put on record for this Committee that the Bar Council has a real concern about the apparent incompatibility of the European Convention on Human Rights and this Bill. The Supreme Court, as we know, made a decision—in my view, on the basis of facts—that Rwanda is not a safe country. It put forward a whole series of points to support that view. The Bill has not in any way countered any of the points made by the Supreme Court in its judgment. The Bar Council is concerned about that.

The Bar Council is also concerned that the Government are standing down the judges from their role overseeing the work of the Government in operating this Bill. The Bar Council sees this as a clear infringement of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. It seems that, in disapplying in this context the convention on human—

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Is it not right that Clause 4 of the Bill provides exclusively that members of the judiciary will have the opportunity to consider challenges brought of an individual nature in relation to a particular claimant?

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, that may be so, but I think that the point I have made stands—and I think that perhaps I have said enough to point out that the Bar Council has very real concerns about this Bill.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak mainly to Amendments 11 and 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord German. I cannot stop myself saying that it really goes against the grain to do anything that suggests that Liberal Democrats regard the Bill as requiring only some tweaking to be acceptable.

First, I would like to make a general comment about Clause 1. For many years, Governments have opposed amendments setting out the general purpose of a Bill on the basis of such a clause having no effect and being rather confusing. I used to find that understandable, although I signed such amendments; they have tended to be narratives describing hopes, rather than expectations or anything firmer. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has commented on the changing fashion—of such measures being there to make the courts wary of the direction in which they might like to go. This problem applies to Clause 1.

There is a notable omission from the exposition of the Government’s policy—and that is tackling people smuggling, which is abhorrent in itself, not only because of the smugglers’ role in bringing asylum seekers to the UK. The Illegal Migration Act has a similar introductory section. Specifically, Section 1(3) says:

“Accordingly, and so far as it is possible to do so, provision made by or by virtue of this Act must be read and given effect so as to achieve the purpose mentioned in subsection (1)”.


It is important to be clear about the legal effect of Clause 1. If it is intended that the clause is to be relied on, it needs to be sharpened up—for instance, in the case of terminology such as

“the system for the processing of … claims … is to be improved”,

an objective of the treaty, which is a pretty low bar. But my central point is that we need to be very clear about the legal effect and status of this clause, because there will be little point in amending the clause on Report unless the amendment has an effect, either as a stand-alone or by subsequent reference, such as the Act not coming into force unless a provision in Clause 1 is met. This may seem a rather technical point but, looking ahead, I do not want to be tripped up on it.

Amendment 12—I am aware that it is an amendment to the clause whose effect I have been querying—therefore probes the definition of “safe country”. The Bill refers, in Clause 1(5)(b)(ii), to a person having

“their claim determined and … treated in accordance with that country’s obligations under international law”—

that is, Rwanda’s obligations. The amendment would leave out “that country’s” and insert “the United Kingdom’s”, changing it to being the UK’s “obligations under international law”.

The treaty is predicated on Rwanda being under the same obligations, and as observant of them, as is the UK, so that the transfer to Rwanda, as I understand it, means really only a change of venue. Dr Google did not really help me yesterday in finding what conventions Rwanda has signed up to and, importantly, ratified and observed. But we are proceeding with this on the basis that everything that we would do in this country will apply under the new regime, and I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

Amendment 11 is related to this. Clause 1(5)(a) also defines a safe country for the purposes of the Bill. It refers to the UK’s obligations

“that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there”.

Surely, all our obligations are relevant to the treatment of persons removed there, not just in that country. So both amendments go to the issue of safety—that is, the Bill’s compatibility with the UK’s human rights obligations, which are the obligations that are crucial as part of this whole regime.

Asylum Seekers: Convictions

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Thursday 8th February 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I undertake to write on the review to which the noble Lord adverted, not having the details of its scope and progress to hand as yet. I should have said that I will also write to the right reverend Prelate on the matter he raised. What I can I say is that all who claim asylum undergo a series of security checks against immigration and police databases. They are screened to identify individuals who have been involved in criminality, both inside and outside the United Kingdom, or are persons who engage the national security interest.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, if an asylum seeker is assessed as presenting no risk to the people of this country, even if they have committed crimes in the past, which may have been related to the persecution they faced in their own country, will they be granted asylum in this country?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, all applications will be treated on a case-by-case basis. The situation the noble Baroness described is one in which the individual circumstances will rule.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, I am afraid I have dropped my notes.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 10, tabled by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. The sole objective of the amendment is to ensure that the Government fulfil their clear responsibility to protect the best interests of children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3 of the convention provides explicitly that in all actions the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration, and that is what the amendment says. Article 20 requires that children separated from their parents be given special protection and assistance. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in this country, as noble Lords know, will have escaped from the most appalling persecution, trafficking, modern slavery and other abominable experiences. The current Government are putting the reputation of this country at risk for years to come if they insist on rejecting Amendment 10 and others that seek only to ensure that this country respects our international obligations.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to speak not as an expert on Northern Ireland but simply as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee. I happen to be half Irish, which explains why I am very interested in this Bill, but it is not why I am speaking.

As other noble Lords have said, this is a Bill of exceptional constitutional significance, and yet it is a skeleton Bill that confers on Ministers powers to legislate in the widest possible terms. I cannot improve on the statement in the committee’s report on this Bill that

“The Bill is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, the EU and the Government's international obligations”.


Of course, the most appalling aspect of this is the Government's apparent willingness to breach international law. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, and my noble friend Lord Pannick superbly explained precisely why this Bill is a breach of international law. I would really like the Minister to respond to that point.

This Bill unilaterally disapplies specific areas of the protocol and makes matters far worse by delegating to Ministers powers to disapply further areas of the protocol in UK domestic law. Clause 22(2) is explicit that Ministers can disregard the UK’s international obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol or any other part of the EU withdrawal agreement. The extent of that delegation is quite breathtaking.

As other noble Lords have pointed out, Britain has a proud history as an example to the world of a country which at all times and in all circumstances respects the rule of law. This Bill threatens to undermine that precious reputation. For this reason alone, this House should not proceed to Committee stage on this Bill as it stands.

While recognising that the worst feature of this Bill is its disregard for international law, I will focus my remaining remarks on the extraordinary delegation of powers to Ministers. The fact is that every one of the 19 powers in the Bill allows Ministers to make any provision that they could make under an Act of Parliament, including modifying by regulations the Bill itself once it has become law.

As the Bill stands, Ministers could by regulation impose or increase taxes, create retrospective laws, create serious criminal offences, or amend the Human Rights Act 1998, for example. These are surely extraordinary and unacceptable powers. Whenever a Bill seeks to achieve any of those objectives by delegated powers, the Delegated Powers Committee pulls them up and draws attention to it. However, the wholesale nature of the matters in this Bill is completely unprecedented.

In their memorandum on the Bill, the Government frequently refer to powers being exercised to make “technical and detailed” provision that is best suited to regulations. However, to suggest that powers are just technical or detailed when they unilaterally depart from a major international agreement in a highly controversial area of law is outrageous. I hope the Minister feels able to comment on this aspect of the Government’s memorandum.

I could go on, but I have said sufficient to explain why I will support any Motion which seeks to defer consideration of this Bill to allow time for the Government to continue negotiating with the EU to resolve all remaining issues arising from the protocol. Very relevant here is the fact that Northern Ireland industry representatives are generally satisfied with the protocol if the relatively limited remaining issues can be resolved by negotiation. The southern Ireland Government have also indicated that they regard the outstanding issues as manageable through negotiation. The Minister made clear that the Government’s preferred way forward is through negotiation. For the sake of the reputation of this country and out of respect for the supremacy of Parliament, I plead with the Government to withdraw the Bill.

Humanist Marriages

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I repeat the answer I gave to the previous question.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 made provision for the Government to introduce legal recognition of humanist marriages by statutory instrument—as Quakers and Jews already have, in fact, despite the Minister’s earlier answer. Later this year, I understand, the Government are likely to give legal recognition to outdoor religious marriages by changing primary legislation, a vastly more complex process. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss how this very simple objective can be achieved for humanist marriages without further delay, there already being nine years since the primary legislation was passed?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am perfectly happy to arrange that someone from the relevant department should meet the noble Baroness—as, indeed, my colleague in the other place, Tom Pursglove MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, has met representatives from Humanists UK, and Crispin Blunt MP. That took place on 24 March.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lord Cashman Portrait Lord Cashman (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly, because I was not intending to speak. I want first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Coaker on the way he introduced these amendments. I support the amendments and particularly what has been said in relation to victims of modern slavery.

I think I can rely on history to reinforce this, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, to listen carefully. History shows us that when each of us experiences appalling discrimination and persecution, that pain and that shame are buried for decades. To revisit that sometimes takes us to an area that we never want to be in again. Therefore, with that thought, I urge the Government to think again.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his intention to oppose Clauses 57 and 58 standing part of the Bill. I have a speech but I am not going to deliver it, because the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in particular, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and many others have been so powerfully put that they are simply irrefutable. I have been in the House now for 15 years or so and have heard thousands of good arguments as to why a Government should not do this, that or the other, but I have never heard such powerful arguments for a part of a Bill to be removed.

I am going to ask something that I have never asked before. Will the Minister invite the Home Secretary to come to a meeting with representatives from all sides of this House to hear the arguments first-hand from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others? It is not good enough for our poor Minister, if I may refer to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in that way, to hear all these arguments, to go back and say whatever he is going to say—I do not know what it will be—and then to have to come back here and say, “Sorry, guys, it’s all going to stay there”. That is not good enough. The case is so incredibly powerful. The wickedness of Part 5 should not be allowed to go by without the Home Secretary facing noble Lords directly.

Lord Hylton Portrait Lord Hylton (CB)
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My Lords, I notice that my noble friend Lady Hollins cannot be in her place today, but I urge the Minister to consider her wealth of medical, psychological and therapeutic experience, as she has her name to Amendment 154. That will strengthen the case for him taking back this group.

Marriage and Religious Weddings

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, if a religious ceremony of marriage or purported marriage does not conform to the requirement of Lord Hardwicke’s Act of 1753 or the marriage Act of 1836, then there will be no marriage. In these circumstances, a couple would be regarded as cohabiting and that would clearly have an impact upon any circumstances in which they ceased to cohabit.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is seven years next month since the same-sex marriage Act was passed, enabling Governments to bring about legal recognition for humanist marriages by ministerial order. Since then, successive Ministers have been very supportive but have had a series of reviews rather than taking action. Meanwhile, 6,000 couples who have had humanist weddings have also been required to have a second marriage ceremony with a registrar to get legal recognition of their ceremony. This cannot be justified. Will the Minister help to achieve legal recognition of humanist marriages, which has the support of the majority in all religious groups?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, the Law Commission is proposing to look at the matter of where and in what circumstances marriage should be celebrated. I understand that its consultation document will be available in September.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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My Lords, this is a very simple amendment designed to give those divorcing or separating some basic information. It would require a court to

“send, to the applicant and to the other party to the marriage, information about—(i) relationship support services and, (ii) mediation services”.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the concept of irreversible breakdown as a basis for divorce goes back to the recommendation of a Church of England Commission in 1966, which was accepted by the Law Commission in the same year and passed into law. Since then, however, up to the present time, as we know, it has been necessary to provide evidence of that breakdown, either by a period of separation or behaviour. Thirty years later, the Family Law Bill, introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in 1996, sought to do away with those tests. I strongly supported that Bill, but it met fierce opposition at the time, although it was finally passed by both Houses of Parliament.

The reason why many people who might otherwise have opposed that Bill did in the end support it, was the key role played by information sessions in the process of divorce. These involved meetings with the divorcing couple, who had the opportunity to avail themselves of relationship support or mediation should they need it. Though, as I say, that Bill was passed, it was not implemented by the incoming Labour Government and was eventually repealed. One reason for its repeal was that the information sessions as initially conceived were judged unable to achieve the objectives for which they were set up. Six pilot programmes were tried but none was judged successful.

It is clear that doing away with the need to provide objective evidence of breakdown is much more widely supported now than it was in 1996—and that is a good thing—and in the light of experience this Bill has much broader support now than it did then. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that while most divorces rightly go through, there are some marriages that can and should be held together even at a late stage of the process, or that might benefit from mediation.

I believe that the role of lawyers is essential in most marriage break-ups. However, the process appears from the outside to be essentially adversarial. A recent film now available on Netflix—“Marriage Story”—shows the process at work. It does not, I am afraid, depict lawyers in a very pretty light. As one lawyer in the film says, “If you start from a place of reasonable and they start from a place of crazy, when we settle we’ll be somewhere between reasonable and crazy”. The point is, of course, that both sides will think that they are reasonable and the other side is crazy. Yet, even in that unhappy story, one has to admit that the wife, in the end, benefited from having the issue settled by a court.

That said, I was talking recently to a friend about the Bill at present before the House. She revealed that she was a lawyer and that her first job in a law firm was dealing with divorces because, as she said, that was the sort of work thought appropriate to women in those days. She tried with her clients first to get them talking and exploring what they really wanted—in other words, she did what the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, said all good solicitors should do. Eventually, she was very surprised to be hauled in by her bosses and told that she was being transferred to another branch of the law as she was losing the firm too much money. I assure noble Lords that I did not make that up; it emerged spontaneously out of the blue and I was rather surprised. I quote it not as an anti-lawyer statement—I do not want to be a Daniel in a den of lawyers, because there are so many lawyers in the House that we feel inadequate anyway about not being a lawyer. The point I am making is that there are other ways forward and it is important that a divorcing couple of fully aware of this, even at a late stage.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, for the coalition Government, told the House in 2013:

“The research concluded that none of the six models of information meeting tested was good enough for implementation nationally. For most people, the meetings came too late to save marriages and tended to cause parties who were uncertain about their marriages to be more inclined towards divorce.”—[Official Report, 23/10/13; col. GC 365.]


I agree that this is likely to be a true reading of the situation, but the phrase the noble Lord used was “for most people”—it is not all people. There is a minority for whom, even at a late stage, there might be a better way forward. Nor is the conclusion the noble Lord drew from the other point as useless as he suggested. It caused, he said, some parties who were uncertain about their marriage to be more inclined towards divorce. The proper conclusion to be drawn from this is that, if it was right for them to divorce, a final chance to have this conviction strengthened is a good thing. We want couples to be clear about what they want after a final chance to consider the options before them.

As I say, I am not arguing for a reinstatement of the information sessions of the 1996 Act. It would be unrealistic to do so. However, what I am proposing is simple and cheap: it simply requires the court to send both parties some basic information which, I imagine, would be provided at no cost by the relationship support and mediation services. Those who receive such information might glance at it and throw it in the wastepaper basket; others might read it carefully and conclude that it is not for them—they are clear that divorce is the right way forward. There will be some, however, who read the information not having properly considered options other than divorce, and who wish to follow this information up.

Society has a big stake in stable marriages and stable civil partnerships. Divorce or separation is sometimes absolutely necessary and essential, but, if there is a chance of a few marriages that would otherwise split up being saved by the simple provision of information, this chance should be taken. I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 3. I regret to speak in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for whom I have great respect. I also have some disagreement with my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries.

Amendment 3 is, like Amendment 1, based on the assumption that, even after divorce proceedings are under way, there is a reasonable number of couples who can be reconciled. My reading of the research on this issue suggests that such reconciliation is rare once divorce proceedings are under way. Nobody starts divorce proceedings unless they are pretty desperate.

Having provided relationship support services as a social worker many decades, never mind many years, ago, I am, of course, a supporter of this approach to marriage problems. However, in response to this amendment, I suggest that a couple would benefit far more from such a service long before either parent considers divorce. A divorce petition is sought only once at least one of the partners is clear that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. It is very likely, although it is not always the case, that one partner will by that time be well involved with a third party and have little interest in perpetuating the marriage. At that stage reconciliation is very unlikely, although of course it is possible.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [HL]

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

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 6 I shall speak also to Amendment 16, both amendments having been recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The reasons set out in the DPRRC report are, in a nutshell, that the matters dealt with under the Henry VIII powers in the Bill are too central to its purpose and therefore not appropriate for the procedure, at least not as currently set out in the Bill. I hope that, in the light of that report, the Minister will consider either accepting my amendments or, perhaps, subjecting these powers to the affirmative procedure.

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.