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Divorce Law Reform

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 26 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many representations he has received to introduce legislation to implement divorce law reform in Scotland.

In the past year my right hon. Friend has received 18 letters from private individuals and interested groups supporting the introduction of legislation to implement divorce law reform in Scotland. I am aware also of similar representations that have been made to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and others.

I am sure that there is no need to remind the Secretary of State that the people of Scotland are fed up with being treated as second-class citizens. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that they have noted that Government time was allocated to discuss the matter on a specifically English basis, but that the Government have refused to allocate time to discuss it as a Scottish matter. Has the hon. Gentleman read the Law Commission report. which states that Scottish law is falling behind because there is no time to debate such matters? Does he agree that that is a strong argument for setting up a Scottish Legislative Assembly immediately?

I always understood that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends were more interested in separation than divorce. I hope that she is as forthcoming with the people of Scotland outside the House as she appears to be with those inside the House, because one of the reasons why the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. Central (Mr. Cook) is in such difficulty is that it was opposed in its early stage by the Leader of her own party—her hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart).

If the hon. Lady is suggesting that the law of Scotland is falling behind the law in England and Wales and should be brought into line with English law, she should say so.

Has my hon. Friend noted the statement to the Press issued by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) that we should allow any English law reform to run for 10 years in England before we imitate it in Scotland? Does he agree that that is not acceptable to the Scottish people, and that the sponsors of my Bill, from all parties, have greatly appreciated the Government's sympathy and understanding of the difficulties we are in? Will my hon. Friend inform the House of the number of representations made to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, which I think have been passed to the Scottish Office for answer?

I cannot give the House the number. I noted what the hon. Member for Western Isles said in the statement, and also that when the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire. East (Mrs. Bain) was speaking the hon. Gentleman was violently disagreeing with what she said. Certain discussions are taking place about the Bill, and they will continue.

Why on earth should time be given for a hare coursing Bill, which many of us support, yet there is no Government time to be given for this Bill, which is on a matter causing acute anxiety to a number of families in Scotland? The opponents of the Bill on a Friday are a Scottish Tory Member who sought to use the English law to obtain his own divorce and the Leader of the SNP, one of whose colleagues is now shouting for harmonisation between the law in England and the law in Scotland.

I am not responsible for the management of Government business, and I am not in a position to say why time is given for one Bill and not for another.

I accept what the Minister has just said, but will not the Scottish Office change its traditional mind on this question and urge the Government to give time to debate the matter? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in many families in Scotland great bitterness is felt about the lack of harmonisation between English and Scottish law in this matter, and that Members from all parties want the earliest possible debate, at least to see what the feelings of the Scottish Members are on the matter?

It must be within the hon. Gentleman's memory that during his time as PPS to the previous Secretary of State for Scotland approaches were made on the subject, and no sympathy or support were forthcoming from the Government of the day. Whilst I recognise the strength of feeling, 1 rest on the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central that these are matters for discussion and that we should wait and see how the discussions develop.

Will the Minister dissociate himself from the unfair personal remarks made by the hon. Member for Fife. Central (Mr. Hamilton), and agree that a Bill of this importance should be fully debated, and not approved on the nod at 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon?

I am not responsible for what any hon. Member, on either side of the House, says at Question Time or in debate. The matter has been debated in the House many times. Most hon. Members, whether they are for or against divorce reform, have made up their minds where they stand. We should leave the matter there, and see how it progresses.